Understanding Divorce in South Africa, How Long It Takes, and Why to Get Professional Help

Going through a divorce is one of the most destabilising things a married couple can endure. It affects every aspect of one’s life – from mental health to living arrangements. Often, feelings of isolation, loneliness, and resentment accompany a legal split between partners, and it is imperative that anyone going through this life-changing event seeks professional assistance quickly. Here at Riëtte Oosthuizen Attorneys, it has always been important to us that our clients feel supported, heard, and empowered with compassionate legal assistance of the highest standards. That is why we aim to answer any questions about divorce in South Africa and provide prospective clients with information on what the process entails and how we can help.

What Is Divorce and Why Does it Happen?

On a couple’s wedding day, families come together to celebrate a symbolic union of two, loving partners before witnesses. This day is filled with feasting and festivities, and for many, is a specially documented day filled with fun. Plenty of cultures and societies today still see marriage as a rite of passage that is considered the natural, next step for loving spouses. What people often do not realise, however, is that a marriage is far more than a symbolic commitment – it is a legally binding contract under mutual consent of two parties. That means that dissolving a legally recognised marriage takes much more than just walking away – it requires a divorce.

A divorce is, effectively, the legally binding separation of a couple. The process is known as a stressful and even traumatic event because of how profoundly it disrupts one’s life. With how unpleasant the proceedings can be, many would rather prevent a lengthy divorce altogether, but sometimes it simply cannot be avoided. There are many factors that statistically contribute towards a couple divorcing, which may include getting married too young or financial stress.  

On the other hand, divorce trends have also changed in our modern era as more and more women in marriages are financially independent and educated, which means leaving their marriage will not render them destitute. Some couples are also choosing to get married and have children later, which means a higher likelihood of a more mature and stable marriage. While society certainly informs marriage and divorce rates, finding professional legal help during the process is more accessible than ever before too. This means that a legal separation is much less crushing than it would have been half a century ago.

What Are the Viable Grounds for Divorce?

In South Africa, the law requires that there be a reason in place to act as grounds for a divorce – one cannot apply for the process if nothing has gone wrong in the marriage. Meeting one or more of the following criteria means that a divorce can take place:

  • • An irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means there is no chance that the relationship can be restored.
  • • Both partners have been separated or living apart for a while.
  • • Infidelity from one or both partners.
  • • One partner left.
  • • Abuse from one or both partners (abuse can be physical, sexual, and even verbal).
  • • There are no longer feelings of love or affinity in the relationship.
  • • One partner has been unconscious for a minimum of six months with little to no chance of recovery.
  • • One partner has been institutionalised in a mental health facility for a minimum of two years, with professionals unsure that they will ever recover.


It is also important to note that a divorce can be granted whether or not both parties agree – one spouse can still get a divorce granted without the express consent of the other. Some couples also choose to have their union annulled, which is granted in special circumstances. This means that the marriage is not just legally dissolved, but also cleared from the record.

How to Get a Divorce

In South Africa, divorce proceedings can be achieved in the Regional Court or Magistrate Court with jurisdiction in your location, or you can take the proceedings to the High Court. Once you apply, a summons will be served by the sheriff of the court that will order you and your spouse to appear in court. The spouse issued the summons will also have the opportunity to counterclaim. If they do counterclaim, a trial will be held in which each party must present their defence before a judge concludes the terms of the divorce. This is obviously a contested divorce, which is considered stressful, ultra-expensive, and can take up to two to three years to resolve in South Africa. Uncontested divorces, however, are much more cost-effective and can be finalised in as little as a month.

In the end, professional mediation is always a preferred option. Here, someone with a legal background can listen to both parties objectively and help them to come to terms of the agreement that entail a compromise but works out for everyone in the end. This is especially recommended in divorces that entail a custody battle for children. Settling before going to trial saves on time and money, but it is not always possible, unfortunately. Many times, one or both spouses are simply unwilling to compromise or give an inch during negotiations, which draws the process out to extremes.

Why Legal Assistance Is So Valuable

Because of how long a divorce can drag out, it is usually more practical to work together to achieve the best possible outcome in a few weeks. Enduring tough negotiations and a brutal trial for months or years is never ideal. Then there is the fact that during a divorce, it is normal for emotions to run high. This can also mean that sifting through legal jargon and proceedings is clouded by murky feelings – and you might find yourself making costly mistakes. For fair proceedings when it comes to children, assets, property, compensation, and other marital regimes, seeking help with the litigation is far wiser.

At Riëtte Oosthuizen Attorneys, not only do we have your best interests at heart, but our years of expertise in Divorce and Family Law in South Africa means we can offer you the guidance and counsel you require. From Child Law to complex financial legal issues, we can help you make sense of the mess. Whether you are seeking professional mediators or wish to efficiently negotiate a resolution, let us be there for you today.