How to get divorced on a budget

Marriage is a legal contract, so getting divorced requires some legal formalities and costs. A divorce can cost a fortune in legal fees, leaving both parties in dire financial straits. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to get divorced for less than R1 000, letting you both move on with your finances intact. Here’s what you need to know about getting divorced on a budget.

An uncontested divorce is the cheapest way to divorce

A divorce can be either contested or uncontested.

Uncontested
In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all the important elements of the divorce, including:

  • Wanting to get divorced
  • The value of assets
  • How the assets such as a home and pension fund are to be divided
  • Custody of children and parenting plans
  • Maintenance
  • Custody of pets

If both parties agree, there is no back and forth between the parties as they struggle to come to an agreement, which means that legal fees are minimised. However, the catch is that both parties must agree on everything.

Contested
In a contested divorce, the couple don’t agree on the important things listed above. If you disagree on one or more of these matters, the divorce becomes contested and an agreement has to be found either by a mediator, lawyers or the court. This ultimately costs a lot as lawyers’ fees can add up to many thousands of Rands.

How do you get divorced?

You need to dissolve your marriage contract and get a decree of divorce order, which is granted by the High Court or Regional Court of the Magistrates Court. There are essentially four steps to getting divorced:

  • Decide to get divorced
  • Draw up and sign a settlement agreement and parenting plan
  • Serve a summons
  • Appear in court

The settlement agreement details the financial aspects of your divorce such as who keeps the family home or how the proceeds from the sale of a home are split between the two parties. Any maintenance agreement will also be included in the settlement plan.

The parenting plan details how you care for your children, where they live, visitation rights, and who pays for which costs when.

When these are agreed on and signed, one party (the plaintiff) needs to serve a summons on the other party (the defendant). The summons must be served by the Sheriff of the court. The summons states that you want to get a divorce.

When the summons is served a court case is opened and court date assigned. The plaintiff appears in court on the assigned date and is granted a decree of divorce. The defendant does not need to appear in court if they are not contesting the divorce.

Do you need a lawyer?

No, but in some cases, it is recommended.

You can choose to do it all yourself, use an online divorce service or hire a lawyer and have them do all the work.

Do it yourself
The DIY option is the cheapest. If your divorce is uncontested and you are happy with the settlement agreement you can visit your local magistrates court and get the papers you need to complete to get divorced. There is some admin involved as you will need to get the Sheriff to deliver a summons, and there is a small fee for this, usually under R200.

However, this is only recommended where there are few assets and you agree on everything. If there are children involved and you need a parenting plan or settlement agreement drawn up, it is best to consult a lawyer.

Use an online service
There are many lawyers who offer online divorce services such as iDivorce or eDivorce or DIY Law. You are guided through the process, including settlement agreements and parenting plans. Costs start from a few hundred rand, if everything is done online and you go to court yourself. An attorney-assisted option would cost in the thousands.

This option is cheaper than using a lawyer for everything, and unlike the DIY option you have the assurance that your agreements are legal and enforceable.

Use a divorce lawyer
If you have children, or a lot of assets, and especially if you cannot agree on important issues around children and assets, a divorce lawyer needs to be consulted.

This is when costs can go up into the thousands, tens of thousands and in really complicated divorces hundreds of thousands rands.

A mediator can save you money

One of the stumbling blocks of divorce is reaching agreement on financial matters and childcare arrangements. Either a lawyer or a mediator can assist with these. Mediators are trained to find a solution all the parties agree on and are cheaper than lawyers. This is an option to consider if you are both prepared to negotiate and compromise. You can use a mediator in any of the options – DIY, online divorce service or if you go to a lawyer for your divorce.

Final thoughts

Getting divorced is not easy, even if the marriage itself was difficult. Using an expert can help because they know the process and can take an objective independent view. This can be very useful if you are arguing over who cares for the children or who stays in the home. But if you are able to agree on how to end the marriage and who gets what, it is possible to get divorced in South Africa for under R1 000.

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