Typically, divorce is an emotionally stressful time. It is also the time when one needs to make important legal and financial decisions. Divorces can be contested or uncontested; they can be complicated or straightforward. Issues at stake could include the children, division of assets, mortgage bonds, financial security, maintenance and retirement funding. Often the issues of maintenance and access to the children are revisited long after the divorce.
Settling or proceeding to trial
Divorces are either settled between the parties and the settlement agreement made an order of court or, if the parties are unable to settle their differences, the matter proceeds to trial and the court makes a determination based on the evidence before it. Often the trial will have commenced before the parties reach a settlement agreement. It is easy to see that complicated and hotly contested divorces could cost a small fortune.
There are various options spouses could utilise in their divorce. The cheapest option is the do it yourself (DIY) divorce. This is the least expensive route but ideally should only be considered in an uncontested and straightforward divorce. This would be suitable, for example, for spouses who have no children, where splitting of assets is clear cut and the parties communicate easily and on equal footing. The legal forms required are obtainable from the courts or are easily purchased from a stationary shop. However, online divorces are growing in popularity. Online divorce sites offer varying levels of service ranging from a package which includes the forms and an instruction booklet to online access to an attorney. Costs can therefore vary from about R500 upwards. As with all dealings on the internet it pays to do your homework by verifying whom you are dealing with.
For a complicated, acrimonious or contested divorce, an experienced and reputable divorce attorney is a logical option. There is much at stake in a typical divorce. The cost of a divorce will range depending on whether it is contested, the complexity of the matter, the amount of time spent on the matter and the attorney’s rates depending on his/her expertise and seniority. It is always a good idea to ask the attorney upfront for his/her rates, what the disbursements will be and to obtain an estimate or quote for each possible scenario you could expect in your divorce.
Family law mediation is an alternative to consider. It does not replace the entire legal process but aims to mediate a settlement agreement. The mediator is a trained and independent individual and participation in the mediation process by the spouses is voluntary. This is a good option if the divorce is not acrimonious as it is confidential, could be less stressful and could potentially be less costly.
Assistance pending the divorce order
Another important issue to bear in mind is that divorce finalisation could take some time and one can apply to the court for interim assistance pending the final outcome. This interim assistance can deal with issues such as where the children will live, school fees, medical aid and bond payments, maintenance for the spouse and children and a contribution towards legal costs.
Divorces are as diverse and as different as we are. There is no one rule fits all and you would do well to try and glean as much information regarding your rights and options as possible.