It often happens, when a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the parties are in agreement that they have to divorce. Furthermore, the parties came to an agreement regarding the propriety aspects of the marriage, care and contact of the minor children, as well as who should pay for the cost in relation to the divorce. If all the latter has been agreed upon, there is no need for the parties to wait many months to get divorced. What this article deals with is a real-life scenario where the marriage between a couple would be dissolved in the shortest possible time. In this case, three (3) days from the date of meeting their lawyer. If you don’t feel like reading this entire article, scroll down to the bottom for an illustration of a divorce finalised in 3 (three) days.
Furthermore, it may become necessary for there to be a quick divorce. One such reason could be that a party is only visiting South Africa for a very short while and wants to resolve issues expeditiously. This would especially be so if the parties lived separately for a long time despite being married. Before we proceed with exploring and unpacking the question this article relates to, we will first have to look at certain basic requirements in order for parties to get divorced. This relates to the court’s jurisdiction, as well as the requirement that a marriage has broken down irretrievably. Another one is that they should be married. I guess we all knew that.
It does not mean that because you got married in a specific province or town that the Court situated there has the authority to divorce you. For example, if you married in Cape Town, and relocated to Johannesburg, and live there for quite some time, then Cape Town Court will not necessarily have the jurisdiction to divorce you. The same would apply should the parties have married in Johannesburg and relocated to the United States of America, and are domiciled there. Should they wish to get divorced, they cannot get divorced in Johannesburg. This is so as the Johannesburg Court will not have jurisdiction to divorce this specific couple. Now, what determines jurisdiction? Clearly, it is not the fact that you got married in the Court’s area of jurisdiction. Let’s look at the law.
Section 2 of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979 states the following:
“A court shall have jurisdiction in a divorce action if the parties are or either of the parties is-
Well, there you have it. It does not mean that if you got married within the area of jurisdiction of the court, that automatically, that Court would have the jurisdiction to divorce you.
You or your spouse should at least be domiciled, or resided within that honorable court’s jurisdiction for a specific period. When we refer to domicile, we basically mean that you intend the specific location to be your permanent home. This is a simple definition. Now let us move on to the second issue. That is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
It goes without saying, a court will not divorce a couple who is happily married. There has to be some problem in the marriage. Now let’s go straight into the law and find out when, or under what circumstances a Court of law may divorce you in South Africa.
According to section 4(1) of the Divorce Act:
“A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage if it is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties to the marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.”
Section 4(3) of the Divorce Act then states:
“If it appears to the court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counsel, treatment or reflection, the court may postpone the proceedings in order that the parties may attempt a reconciliation.”
Considering the latter law, it is clear that the marriage should have broken down irretrievably, in other words, it cannot be saved. Furthermore, it should not appear to the court that reconciliation is possible. So moving forward, presuming that the court has jurisdiction and the marriage has irretrievably broken down, we can now deal with the aspect of a quick divorce. That is why you are reading this article? We shall start with what is required in order to institute divorce proceedings.
As would be obvious from the foregoing, only a court of law can dissolve a marriage. Therefore, one needs to follow the legal processes in place in order for a court to deal with your matter. In the case of a divorce, the process starts with the issuing of a summons. Basically, this is a document outlining who all the parties are and what the Plaintiff (the person instituting the divorce proceedings) wants from the court. The summons would be signed by the Court Registrar who would direct the Sherriff of the Court to serve it on the Defendant (the other party to the divorce).
It would also have attached to it, a particulars of claim, comprising of certain relevant information in order for the court and the other party to know what the reasons for the relief sought, or divorce is. This we deal with next.
In the case of a divorce summons, you will state who the parties are, when they got married, details of the minor children involved, and reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. With regard to the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage, you will state that for example, there is no longer any love and affection between the parties, and both parties wish to get divorced.
The latter information is stated in a document, called “particulars of claim”. This document is attached to the summons. The particulars of claim will then also outline the relief sought. For example, it will first state that you wish for a decree of divorce, and further what you wish in relation to care and contact in relation to the minor children, child maintenance, personal maintenance, the division of the joint estate, and who pays the legal fees. It is also wise for the parties to enter into a consent paper or settlement agreement. This we deal with next.
You should stipulate in the particulars of claim exactly what you wish the court to grant you. However, what is a good idea, if the divorce is undefended, to enter into a consent paper or settlement agreement. This document basically outlines what the parties agree upon in relation to the divorce. It deals with child custody, maintenance, and the division of the joint estate if it applies.
The parties would sign the consent paper or settlement agreement and it would be made an order of court should the court so grant it. Therefore, if you follow this route, the court would basically make an order stating that it grants a decree of divorce, incorporating the terms of the consent paper or settlement agreement.
The consent paper or settlement agreement may be entered into between the parties before divorce proceedings are instituted or after. If it is done before divorce proceedings are instituted, it is usually attached to the summons. Your prayers in your particulars of claim would basically be that you ask for a decree of divorce, incorporating the terms of the consent paper attached thereto.
Let us presume that the summons, particulars of claim and consent paper have been drafted, and all documents have been signed. It should then be taken to a court to be issued and a case number is allocated to it. The next step would be for the summons with all the relevant documents attached thereto to be served on the defendant. This would be the case even though the divorce is agreed upon.
Service of the divorce documents on the defendant would have to be done by the office of the sheriff. In other words, the sheriff would give a copy of the divorce papers to the other party, in this case, the defendant. A sheriff then provides a document called, “return of service”. Basically, it tells the court that he served the documents on the defendant.
The defendant would then have a period of ten (10) working days to decide whether or not to defend the divorce. This is stated in the summons. A reason for defending would be that he or she opposes the divorce, or don’t believe the contact arrangements are in the children’s best interests. Once the ten (10) working days have passed, the divorce may be set down for hearing.
Continuing with the example of a friendly divorce, once the ten (10) days have lapsed, and the defendant did not file a notice of his intention to defend the divorce action, the divorce can proceed on an undefended basis. The Plaintiff or the person who instituted the divorce proceedings may then set the divorce matter down for hearing on an undefended basis. If the divorce was instituted in the Western Cape High Court, it could be set-down within three (3) days. For example, if the ten (10) days have expired, The Plaintiff may file his notice of set-down the Monday before noon with the Registrar, to be heard on Wednesday. This is explained at the end of this article.
This is where this article becomes interesting. It is also possible under certain circumstances, for a defendant to file a waiver. Basically, the defendant would file a document stating that he waives his right to ten (10) days to decide whether or not he wants to defend the divorce. If a waiver is filed, and the court has no issue therewith, then the divorce can take place much sooner than ten (10) days. This we explain a bit more next.
Considering the above and, ensuring that all legal processes are in place, a divorce can be finalised very quickly and in certain circumstances, within a few days. As long as the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter and the marriage has broken down irretrievably, there is no reason why the divorce can’t take a maximum period of four weeks to finalise.
If, however, the divorce is urgent and undefended it is possible for the defendant to file a waiver advising the court that he has no issue with a divorce taking place within the ten (10) days given to him. His reason for this could also be that he and the Plaintiff entered into a Consent Paper and wants the divorce as well. In this case, the divorce could take three (3) days. This would apply in the following hypothetical example:
Paying child maintenance, or maintaining their child, is the legal obligation of every parent. A parent does not have a choice in this matter. However, the level and standard of contribution are dependent on the means of the parent. In this article, we will look at the aspect of when does child maintenance come to an end. In this regard, we will look at two situations, one where there is a maintenance order in place and the other where there is not. However, before proceeding with those issues, let us first deal with the issue of who should pay child maintenance.
The law expects a parent to provide child support according to their respective memes. What this entails, is that a parent should only pay what he or she can afford. Therefore, even if a child requires a huge amount of child support, if a parent cannot afford to provide, he or she will not be held responsible. Therefore, the other parent would have to support the child according to his or her means. In applying this principle in practice, it means one parent may have to pay more child support than the other parent.
However, various factors will have to be looked at. The law does not only look at your income but also at your expenses. If a father earns a substantial amount of money per month, we also have to look at his expenses in order to earn such an amount. For example, he needs to travel overseas regularly and purchase expensive electronics. Those overseas expenses and gadgets should be factored in when considering his means.
Many a time, parents approach the Maintenance Court for assistance in obtaining maintenance from the other parent. This process usually ends with the court making a maintenance order. This is sometimes by agreement and other times through formal processes like hearings or trials. The same is true in the case of a divorce. When the court grants a decree of divorce, it will make a maintenance order should there be minor children involved. Usually, the order will stipulate until when maintenance is payable in terms of the order. In terms of our law, a court should not grant a decree of divorce unless it is satisfied that the minor children’s interest is looked after.
It is of vital importance, that when parties agree on a maintenance order, they are as simple and direct as possible. No one wants to argue over a vague maintenance order years down the line when issues arise. Therefore, although you took a day to settle a maintenance matter, you may take weeks to settle a maintenance dispute based on a simple clause. The order should specifically deal with the aspect of how maintenance should be paid, where it should be paid and until when.
If the maintenance orders state that maintenance will come to an end when the children reach the age of eighteen, then, under those circumstances, the court order will fall away when they reach that age. Another age usually stipulated in a maintenance order is the age of twenty-one. Furthermore, it is sometimes stipulated in a maintenance order that maintenance is paid until the children are self-supporting. The latter situation could become problematic as to how is it determined when a child is self-supportive. This we deal with next.
Obviously, if the child moves out of the house, gets a job and pay for his or her own expenses, he or she is self-supportive. However, if the child still resides with his or her parents, but is capable of earning a reasonable income, a dispute might arise regarding whether or not the child is self-supportive. Nonetheless, the maintenance order will stand until the conditions stipulated in the order have passed. The parents would, therefore, have a legal obligation to pay the maintenance as stated in the order.
As stated above, age does not play a role as to until when child maintenance must be paid. The fundamental issue is that of being self-supportive. Therefore, even if the order says you must pay child maintenance until the child is twenty-one years old, but at the age of eighteen the child earns a much greater salary than his or her parents, and is accordingly self-supportive, then under those circumstances maintenance is not due to the child. In such a case, the parties must agree that maintenance should not be paid. If such an agreement is not forthcoming, then the party who is obliged to pay child support should approach the court to have the order set aside.
Child maintenance is due to the child and not to the other parent. However many a time, a child of eighteen is still attending school and cared for by a parent. Therefore, although the child is an adult, he or she is not in a position to care for him or herself. Maintenance in terms of the court order should still be paid to the parent caring for the child. Once the child is mature enough, or he or she moved out of the home of the caregiver, he or she may then, under those circumstances, receive the maintenance directly from the relevant parent.
If there is no maintenance order in place, when a child turns eighteen, he or she will have to apply for maintenance from his or her parents. As the child is an adult, his or her parents cannot approach the Maintenance Court on his or her behalf. In other words, a parent cannot apply for maintenance on behalf of his or her adult child. This could become problematic, should the child, being an adult, still attend school.
In today’s modern times, many people decide to leave South Africa and seek employment overseas. The reason for that could be many. But usually, it’s because they feel they can earn much more in a different country. Furthermore, safety and security, and medical benefits are on the list. What often happens is one parent wants to relocate, with a child, however, the other parent has an issue with it. As you will see later, the consent of both guardians is required for a minor child to leave the Republic of South Africa.
We are often approached by the parent wishing to relocate with the minor child for legal advice. It is often the mother. She wants to know what her rights are regarding the child relocating with her. Now the ideal situation would be for both parents to sit down and discuss the issue. It would obviously have a big impact on their lives should relocation with the child take place. They should discuss aspects regarding contact and maintenance should relocation be a viable option. However, meeting eye to eye and having a sensible discussion on the issue is not always the case.
It often happens when parents do not agree on the issue of relocation; the parent wishing to relocate has to make some drastic decisions. Should she remain in South Africa and continue in her current employment, or remain unemployed? By remaining in South Africa, she would remain the primary caregiver of the minor child. The other option is for the parent to not fight the issue but decide to relocate and leave the child with a parent in South Africa. This could become problematic. Especially so in the case where the parent residing in South Africa was never a primary caregiver of the minor child. In other words, he or she cannot care for the child as well as the parent wishing to relocate.
Now in terms of the law, if a child should be removed from the Republic of South Africa, for traveling, or relocation, he or she requires the consent of both guardians. We will not go into the finer details of who is a guardian and what are the rights of a guardian. However, in terms of the Children’s Act, both guardians should consent for the minor child to be removed from the Republic of South Africa, and his or her return. Therefore, if the parents come to an agreement that the minor child may relocate, then the consenting parent should only sign necessary consent documents. Those documents can be obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. At the same time additional assisting documents will be of use. For example, an affidavit from the father stating that he has no issue with a minor child relocating and he provides a mother with the authority to make certain decisions regarding the minor child. These decisions could relate to the enrolment of schools, medical consent, and consent to travel within the country.
Let’s say consent is not provided. What can the parent do under those circumstances? Unfortunately, the parent would have to approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other. He or she will have to convince the court that it would be in the minor child’s best interest for the relocation to take place. The parent who remains in South Africa will have to do the opposite. He or she would have to convince the court that it would be in the child’s best interest for them to remain in South Africa. Valid reasons could be that the country that they wish to relocate to is dangerous, or the child would be better suited to remain in South Africa.
Now the problem arises as mentioned earlier. The parent wishing to relocate is left with a predicament. Does he or she remain in South Africa caring for the child or does he or she relocate and leave the child behind if consent is not given. As stated earlier, he or she would have to approach the Court. All these factors will have to be ventilated before the court and then the court will decide what is in the minor child’s best interest.
We pause here to state that should a parent follow the specific route in approaching the court, he or she may want to at the same time apply for certain sole guardianship rights to the minor child. The parent would have to ask the court for certain rights, for example, should the minor child have to apply for a passport while overseas; only that parent’s consent is required. The same applies should the minor child have to be enrolled in a school, and as stated earlier, attend to a medical procedure.
If the parent relocating is a mother, she can bring up a constitutional argument. She may argue that because she is a mother of the child and gave birth to the child, it is unfair for her to obtain the father’s consent under the circumstances. He, on the other hand, may decide to travel anywhere in the world and do not require the consent of the mother, because he is not the primary caregiver of the minor child.
So in short, if the parties cannot come to an agreement on the relocation of the minor child to another country, the parents wishing to relocate should approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other parent. The other parent can oppose the application stating various reasons why it would not be in the minor child’s best interest for them to relocate. If that parent was not much involved in the minor child’s life and cannot care for the minor child; more than likely the court would not find in that parent’s favour. The bottom line is as stated, the court will decide what is best for the child.
In its very nature, maintenance matters are complicated and never straight forward. For starters, it deals with the income and expenditure of both parents and the needs of the child. It is not easy for a maintenance court to determine with a high degree of certainty what the true income of a self-employed parent is. The same applies to the true expenses of a parent.
It is very easy for a parent to manipulate documentation or only present information which he or she believes would be in their favor. For example, if a parent earns extra income by selling clothing, he or she may decide not to disclose that information to the maintenance Court. By doing so, the Maintenance Court will determine the maintenance of the child based on the incorrect facts presented.
This could become more problematic when one parent knows of the other parent’s additional income but cannot prove it. If the parties have legal representatives, this issue of improper disclosure is limited to a certain extent. For example, lawyers would be in a good position to do their own investigations and verify certain relevant information.
Then there is the issue of the expenses of the child. The court requires a proper outline of all the monthly, daily and yearly expenditure of the child. Without all the relevant information before it, the court is not in a proper position to make a fair decision regarding child maintenance. This is so as the amount of maintenance a parent should pay is directly determined by what is the child’s monthly expenditure. For example, if a parent earns a million rand a month, his or her maintenance contributions can be no more than what the child actually cost per month.
It often happens that a parent cannot, or do not provide a true reflection as to what the child actually cost. Amounts are inflated, and there is no way that the court or the other parent can really question those amounts. Let’s say the mother is taking the father to the Maintenance Court but the father only sees the child once a month. The father, in this case, would not be able to confirm or verify whether or not the child actually eats as much as the mother makes it out to be. And many times, parents come to court with an attitude of “let me claim more and the court will give me less.”
Let’s say a maintenance enquiry was held by a maintenance magistrate, and a decision was handed down. Should both parents be happy with the decision of the magistrate, their lives can continue and the party who should pay maintenance should comply with the order.
However, it often happens that one parent is not happy with the maintenance order. We often get queries where parents want to know what they can do when the maintenance Court did not find in their favor. Sometimes parents feel that the Maintenance Court was one-sided.
In such a case he or she wants the decision of the magistrate to be relooked at. In order for this to happen, the Parent should appeal the decision of the magistrate.
The purpose of this article is not to explain the technical procedure of appealing a magistrate’s judgment. The procedure is a bit complicated and we suggest you make use of a legal practitioner to assist you should you wish to appeal a decision. However, what we want to bring home is that it is possible for the decision of a Maintenance Court to be relooked at by a higher Court and provide you with some insight as to what happens. The higher Court, in this case, will be the High Court. If you reside in Cape Town, it is the Western Cape High Court.
Let’s say all the court rules and procedures were complied with and the matter is now before the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court will comprise of two judges. They would have read through the entire court record in the Magistrate’s Court before the matter is heard. Taking it one step back, all proceedings in the magistrate’s court is digitally recorded. So, when you decide to appeal a decision of the magistrate’s court the recordings are sent to an authorised typist, who would type out the entire Court record. You cannot type out the record yourself.
Now before you argue your case at the Appeal Court you would want the judges to first know what your arguments are. At the same time, you would like to know what the other lawyer’s arguments are. In this regard, you would file heads of argument a few weeks before the appeal hearing date. Basically, you will outline what points you will be focusing on, and what law you will be relying on.
Your purpose at the appeal is to try to convince the judges that the magistrate erred in his or her decision. In other words, made a mistake. In relation to a maintenance Court matter, you may even wish to convince the court that the maintenance officer did not follow the procedures outlined in the Maintenance Act or he or she did not properly investigate the maintenance complaint. For example, the maintenance officer just took the father’s word when he said he was unemployed. Or the mother’s word when she said she earns no additional income.
Had the maintenance officer done some further investigations by requesting relevant information, or instructing the maintenance investigator, the true facts would have been before the Maintenance Court. In other words, the magistrate would have made a different decision.
Now, this would apply to a maintenance Court where the provisions in-place in the Maintenance Act was not followed. If this happened, you may appeal.
The High Court judges would have the magistrate’s reasons for his decision before them. In other words, the magistrate would provide a document to the appeals court where he or she explains why he or she made a certain decision in the Maintenance Court matter. He or she may, for example, say that based upon the evidence presented, the father earned an amount which does not justify him paying more than what he is currently paying. Or the maintenance magistrate might say that based upon all the evidence presented, he could not find any information that will justify an amount greater than what the father is currently paying. The appeal Court would look at all these reasons and the evidence that was presented at court. It would listen to the arguments of the legal representatives and determine whether or not the magistrate made an error in judgment.
If it is decided that the magistrate made an error in judgment, the court would in those circumstances change the order or refer the matter back to the maintenance court for a proper enquiry. If the court decides that the magistrate was correct in its judgment, it will dismiss the appeal. So in short if you are dissatisfied with a maintenance magistrates court decision, you have full right to appeal it.
When parties divorce or they approached a court of law to resolve a dispute regarding a minor child, it was customary for them to appoint a facilitator should they settle the matter. Specific clauses would be inserted into consent papers and settlement agreements which the parties sign and is made an order of Court. The clauses would basically state that the parties appoint a facilitator to resolve disputes regarding the minor child and that the facilitator has certain authority and powers. Such disputes could range from one-party wanting more contact with the child or disputes regarding aspects of education, for example, which school the child goes to, or aspects regarding extramural activities. At the end of this article you would find an example of a facilitator clause.
A facilitator should be a suitably qualified person. He or she does not necessarily have to be a clinical psychologist, social worker or a lawyer. He or she should be somebody that knows family law, understands the family dynamics and is skilled in resolving issues between parties. It is therefore very important that the parties appoint a facilitator that they would feel comfortable with and one that will be compatible with their family situation.
It would often happen that the parties cannot resolve a dispute amicably through a facilitator. In such a case, a decision will have to be made. The facilitator would then have to issue a directive. In other words, make a firm and binding decision for the parties. A further clause would then usually be inserted into the consent paper stating that the facilitator’s directive would be binding upon the parties as if it was an order of the court. The directive of the facilitator would then remain binding upon the parties unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders otherwise. It is this latter aspect that this article deals with.
Based on our history with family law matters, this specific facilitation clause came about in or about 2008, a short while after the Children’s Act came into operation. It was then customary for parties to insert this facilitation clause as a matter of course. In our experience, the family advocate’s office would insist that such a clause be inserted and furthermore the courts would have no issue therewith.
What has now happened since 2018, in the Western Cape at least, was that certain judges started having an issue with the fact that a facilitator had the authority of making binding decisions on the parties which had the effect of an order of Court. In other words, due to the clause stating, that the facilitator’s directive would be binding upon the parties as if it was an order of Court; certain judges began to question such authority.
Basically, the court’s reasoning is how could judicial authority be delegated to a third party? Taking it one step back when, the courts in the past made an order incorporating the settlement agreement, which had a clause therein authorising the facilitator to make binding directives; it basically gave judicial authority to the facilitator. In other words, the facilitator had the authority of a Judge.
What has now become a practice, should a facilitation clause be inserted into a settlement agreement, the office of the Family Advocate of Cape Town, at least, would endorse the Consent Paper or Settlement, Agreement but also direct the Court to determine whether or not the parties understand the role of the facilitator and that they would be responsible for the cost associated therewith.
There could be many reasons why the Family Advocate is directing the parties to advise the court whether or not they understand the role of the facilitator. One such reason could be that they do not want parties to come to them to facilitate disputes and issues that might arise. And of course, the other reason could be due to the court judgments that recently stated that a court can’t delegate its authority to a facilitator.
In our view, asking a party in court, whether or not they understand the role of a facilitator, and that they will be responsible for the cost thereof is unnecessary. The party would say that they understand the role and that they are responsible for the cost thereof. What value that has in the case of a dispute arising in the future is very little.
Going forward, we still recommend that a facilitation clause be inserted in settlement agreements and consent papers. We further agree that a Court cannot delegate its judicial authority to a third party, unless in exceptional circumstances. However, at the same time, we feel that the facilitator could play a crucial role in resolving disputes between the parties. Having said that, the parties need to discuss whether or not they would require a facilitator, and in the event they do, they should specifically outline the role of their intended facilitator in the consent paper or settlement agreement.