Divorce attorneys – helping you survive divorce

Divorce attorneys

And go on to thrive

The objective of divorce is to end a legal contract between two people who once loved each other and now no longer feel able to continue their life together. The love may have waned, or there may be other factors that make the pair incompatible and the relationship untenable. South African law allows couples to go their separate ways with the minimum of blame. Although one spouse must still raise the divorce, thus creating a plaintiff and defendant, in reality we have “no-fault” divorce. It is enough to say that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. Neither infidelity nor unreasonable behaviour has to be proven by either party. Most divorce attorneys want to help their clients find the most efficient, economical and (relatively) painless means to move on.

But despite the divorce attorney’s best intentions, many divorces end up costing a lot – and not just in terms of money. Couples throw reason and dignity to the wind and tear chunks out of each other. Can divorce be dignified? We believe it can be.

Benefits of a dignified divorce

As divorce attorneys we have helped many people through this challenging life event. We’ve seen the havoc wreaked by hostile divorces – on the spouses themselves, on their families and friends and, most importantly, on their children. It can take adults years to recover from a traumatic divorce. Children may be affected for life. It’s not worth it. What’s the alternative?

Mediated divorce

A mediated divorce falls between a contested and an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses work together to agree divorce terms, including maintenance, division of assets, child care and contact, and other important decisions. An impartial attorney may be appointed by both spouses to draft the official settlement agreement, which is signed by both parties and made an order of the court.

Contested divorces, by contrast, happen when the spouses cannot reach agreement, generally due to disputes over maintenance, division of assets and/or child care. Feelings run high and emotional blackmail may creep in. Contested divorces involve multiple court appearances and high legal costs, not to mention the personal trauma caused.

When divorcing couples are struggling to reach agreement, in an attempt to avoid a drawn-out court battle, the divorce attorney may recommend a skilled mediator to facilitate the divorce settlement. This is called a mediated divorce. There are various professionals with experience of mediation, but the mediator is usually a psychologist or social worker. Since 2020 it has been a requirement of the Uniform Rules of Court that mediation is considered at the start of a divorce, if it is not uncontested.

The mediation process gives both spouses more control over the terms and conditions of their divorce agreement. A mediated divorce saves a lot of time, taking on average three months to resolve. Compare this to one to two years – or more – that a contested divorce can take to finalise. The divorce mediator enables communication and negotiation between the spouses. Their role is not to make decisions. Particularly where there are children involved, mediation provides a framework that allows the couple to focus on the needs of their children and plan for their best interests in the post-divorce arrangements.

Cost of divorce

Very few people leave a marriage in order to be financially better off. It does happen that one spouse’s financial irresponsibility can be the undoing of the relationship, and the other leaves to preserve their own financial security. But cases like that are in the minority. In the majority of cases, divorce is costly, and two households cost more to maintain than one, so individuals are rarely better off single than they were as part of a couple. People divorce in spite of the financial consequences.

Therefore, it makes sense to try to limit those financial consequences. It is important to take divorce finances seriously and ensure a fair division of assets. It’s not a good idea to be too conciliatory in the interests of accord. After all, whatever you give away now is gone for good. Pay close attention to pension splitting arrangements, maintenance – whether child or spousal, medical aid and life insurance, and don’t overlook sensitive matters like your will. You can find more information on these aspects of divorce financial planning here.

However, doing battle over assets and racking up six-figure legal and court costs will erode any small financial gains you may make in the process. Divorcing peacefully and with dignity is not just good for your mental health; it’s good for your bank balance. You may feel your spouse does not deserve half of the family home, but do you want to have to sell it to pay your legal fees?

Divorcing with dignity does not mean avoiding conflict at all costs, or giving in on matters that are genuinely important to you. It means calmly asserting your position on the issues, being prepared to listen to the other, and reaching a mutually acceptable solution as adults. This is easier said than done when you are hurt or angry or both. It requires maturity and self-control; but is achievable if you keep focused on the longer-term benefits.

Non-financial benefits of peaceful divorce

Divorcing peacefully, as we’ve seen, is the most economical way to dissolve a marriage. But there are other benefits too, and they are arguably more important. If you have children, you will safeguard their wellbeing. Hostilities between parents are very difficult for children to understand, because they love you both. Children will be confused by the antagonism between you, and may think they are to blame. Minimising your conflict will not only ease the transition for your children, it will teach them how to manage anger and treat others kindly, even when they disagree.

The other non-financial benefit of a peaceful divorce is your own emotional wellbeing. Post-divorce depression is common, as a natural response to trauma. The more harrowing the process, the more bickering and feuding you experience, the longer it will take to recover and build a new life. Your divorce attorney will do their best to keep the proceedings on a reasonable footing. However, you and your spouse carry the ultimate responsibility for how you treat each other. If you can view each other as two individuals who are hurting, and resist the temptation to blame the other for your pain, you will behave with benevolence. Hopefully, your generosity of spirit will inspire your spouse to do likewise.

If you do feel overwhelmed by the feelings associated with your divorce, talk to a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist. They can help you come to terms with the grief and anger you are experiencing. Ultimately, divorce is loss, and grief is a normal reaction to loss.

Divorce attorneys who care

We want to help you through your divorce so you can go on to thrive. SD Law and Associates are experts in family law in Cape Town and Johannesburg. We have extensive experience of helping couples divorce with dignity. Contact family lawyer Simon Dippenaar on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za. For more information on divorce in South Africa, see Types of Divorce in South Africa and for more information on mediation, see Divorce Mediation on our website.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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