January – the month of divorce?


Divorce proceedings are often initiated in the new year

Is your new year’s resolution to get divorced? If so, you’re not alone. Divorce lawyers often refer to the first Monday in January (8th January this year) as “Divorce Day” and January as “Divorce Month”. This doesn’t mean more divorce decrees are issued in January, but it is when many divorce proceedings are initiated. In this article we’ll look at the reasons for that, and what steps should you take if you have weighed up all your options and decided to divorce. However, divorce is an emotionally difficult process and, even if uncontested, there are costs involved. It’s a good idea to take a step back and be sure it’s what you and your spouse really want, and it’s not just a reaction to a difficult festive season or a desire for a fresh start in the new year.

Why January?

We’re not literally suggesting divorcing is a new year’s resolution, but the new year is a time when people take stock of their current circumstances and look to the future. Some couples will decide to stop petty bickering and see a couples’ counsellor to effect real change. Others will make the hard choice to move on and start anew. 

Last year we had just emerged from two years of Covid-19 restrictions, which placed a huge strain on many relationships and families. Although 2023 was, thankfully, free from global health issues, we’ve had challenges in South Africa that have put us all under pressure. Unrelenting load shedding has disrupted family routines, badly impacted small businesses, causing economic hardship, and made us all grumpy! Prices of basic commodities like food and fuel have been rising inexorably.

The festive season may have given us some respite from load shedding but it will have heightened the stress caused by everything else. It’s an expensive time of year, and a time when limited resources are most keenly felt…all the neighbours are going away but you can’t afford to, etc. According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis, concerns and disputes about money are responsible for nearly a quarter of all divorces. It’s no wonder these matters come to the fore in January.

The festive season is also a time when families spend more time together. Cracks in a relationship that can be ignored during the chaos of working and raising a family can show when life slows down and time together is increased. Added to that is the potential strain of being around extended family. If there are cultural or values disparities between spouses, these can be exacerbated by the proximity of family and can lead to irrevocable differences.

Starting a divorce

If, after considering your options, you are sure divorce is the right move for you, where do you start? Change is frightening, and leaving a marriage has financial and emotional consequences. There are a few steps you can take to prepare yourself before you approach an attorney and start the legal process.

Support network

Make you you have a support network in place. Even if you think your divorce is right for both of you and will be amicable, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be. There will be sadness, if nothing else (and in our experience, a fair amount of anger too). Do you have mental health support, such as a therapist or counsellor? Do your friends and family know your intentions and will they support you? If you are anxious that your family may oppose the divorce, confide in a trusted friend and ask them to be your divorce buddy. You may even choose to engage a “divorce doula”.

Do you have a family lawyer? If not, ask friends or acquaintances who have been through a divorce for a recommendation. Ask about their experience. It’s important to find someone you feel comfortable with. At SD Law we believe in divorce with dignity and do not encourage contested divorce, which can drag on, become costly, and cause distress. We do not take an adversarial approach.  

Assess your finances

Create a record of your income and expenditure over the past year. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will give you an idea of your needs when it comes to claiming maintenance, or your means if you have to pay maintenance. Even if you have not been responsible for the family finances, you need to know the cost of maintaining the household.

Don’t take on new debt or change jobs. Financial stability is more critical right now.

Take a break from social media

Don’t discuss your intentions on social media and don’t talk about your spouse. If your amicable divorce turns sour, you don’t want any evidence that can be used against you. The reach of social media is beyond our control and often crops up when we least expect it. Best to stay off social media altogether during divorce proceedings.

Consult a family lawyer

Once you have made your preparations, you are ready to file for divorce. It’s generally wise to consult a family lawyer and resist the urge to do it yourself just to save money. If you have children, significant assets, and/or a pension plan, among other things, you will struggle to navigate the financial ramifications of divorce without professional help. If you and your spouse can reach agreement on terms such as maintenance, division of assets, and child custody, your divorce will be uncontested. This is the least costly and least stressful option. 

If you can’t agree, the divorce will be contested. The court will decide the terms of the divorce. At SD Law we try to avoid contested divorces if at all possible. A mediated divorce is a middle ground in which an attorney and/or a professional mediator will help you negotiate and reach agreement.

Cape Town family lawyer can help

If you are considering starting a divorce and don’t know where to turn, talk to our divorce attorneys. We’ll work with you to explore your options. At SD Law we are known for our EQ and our sensitive approach to family law. We’ll handle your case with equal parts compassion and efficiency. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a discussion in complete confidence.

For more detailed information on how to get a divorce, download our Guide to Divorce.

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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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