Before you get into preparing the summons and sending it off to start the process, let us first address some preliminary questions:
How much does it cost to get a divorce?
In the case of an unopposed divorce (ie there is no dispute between yourself and your spouse about the divorce or what should happen), your fees are likely to be limited to the Sheriff’s fees and minor expenses for transport, photocopies, etc. Sheriff’s fees can vary widely, depending on the distance he has to travel and how many attempts he has to make at serving pleadings on the opposing party, but generally these fees would be a few hundred rand. It is a good idea to contact the Sheriff and ask him for an estimate before asking him to serve pleadings.
Where a divorce is opposed, the costs become unpredictable and entirely dependant on the specifics of the case, but it can get very expensive very quickly.
What can I do if I need an attorney and I cannot afford one?
If you find that you do need legal assistance, but you cannot afford an attorney, you might qualify for legal aid. You can approach Legal Aid South Africa, your local University Law Clinic or your nearest Law Society to enquire about your situation and the availability and your eligibility for legal aid.
You can also approach the court and ask for an order compelling your spouse to contribute to your legal costs. You do this by way of a so-called ‘rule 58’ application, discussed in more detail here.
How long does it take to get divorced?
Where a divorce is unopposed and there are no complications or children involved, it can sometimes be finalised in as little as four weeks.
Where a divorce is opposed, it can easily take two to three years, or more. In most cases, however, divorces get settled before the parties have to go to Court – even where the divorce started out as an opposed divorce. As soon as the parties in an opposed divorce reach a settlement agreement and the divorce becomes unopposed, it can again be possible to finalise the divorce in as little as four weeks.
My spouse said that he / she won’t ‘give me a divorce’. What can I do?
Your spouse can oppose the divorce, but it is the Court that grants a divorce, not your spouse. If you convince the court that the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down, the court can grant a decree of divorce even if your spouse does not want to get divorced.
I know divorce can take a long time and in the meantime we cannot agree on arrangements around the kids. What can I do?
There is a process, called a ‘rule 58’ application, whereby you can ask the court to give an order regarding the care of and access to the children and maintenance pending the finalisation of the divorce. You can even ask for a contribution to your legal costs. For more information about this, click here.
The family advocate will also get involved during the divorce process. This guide will provide more information on this further on.
What if there is domestic abuse?
The courts can assist you in cases of domestic abuse, and the process is the same whether you are busy with divorce proceedings or not. This, however, falls outside of the scope of this guide. For more information, click here.
What do I need to have to get a divorce?
Look at the list of documents required on the next page (“Courts”) and start collecting these document as soon as possible.
What if I am in a Civil Union?
The process stays exactly the same as for a ‘normal’ civil marriage, and you can follow the process described in this guide.
What if I am married in terms of a traditional marriage?
This falls outside of the scope of this guide and is addressed elsewhere. For more information, click here.