The Top 10 Reasons for Divorce in South Africa


It is said that divorce is more emotionally devastating than losing employment, about equal to experiencing a major illness and somewhat less devastating than the other spouse’s death.  Reasons perceived by both men and women as the causes of divorce include loss of love and incompatibility, poor communication, addiction, basic unhappiness, infidelity, emotional problems, conflict over roles, and spouses' personality traits. The common conclusion to all studies on prevention of relationship breakdown and the causes of divorce is that a constellation of factors, not one, is normally responsible for the breakdown of a marriage relationship. Men, women and especially children benefit from a secure, stable and nurturing marital partnership and family environment. Since relationships are dynamic and family circumstances alter through the course of the marriage (birth of a child, dealing with teenagers, a change in employment, illness of a family member), spouses can only benefit more from ongoing counseling options across the different stages of marriage and family life.

The reasons below were most commonly cited in the records of 500 divorce actions instituted in South Africa during 2011.

10. Difference in priorities

The difference in priorities amongst married couples, which a lot of men and women discuss and anticipate prior to their marriage do become major issues for many marriages at a later stage. If one spouse wants to start a family and the other does not, it may create immense conflict between the spouses. It  often happen that one spouse spend less time with their family and focus on other priorities. This often create a struggle for any marriage to survive. No matter how much the spouses try to harmonize their priorities, they still remain complete unique, distinct and complete different individuals.

9. Religious Differences

Couples of a different religion, culture or ethnicity sometimes disregard the expectations of their partner’s religion and this often cause resentment amongst them. These differences are mainly due to the several taboos posed by a specific culture. Besides this, most parents prefer that the children’s religion should be the same as themselves.

8. Parental Responsibilities

It often happens that spouses aren’t able to constructively co-parent children during a marriage. Children are reflections of our own selves, and sometimes parents are not being able to let go of their own egos and put their children in the back-burner. Differences in ideas on how to raise children properly cause rifts in marriages, contributing to the list of reasons for divorce. It often happen that one parent creates a rift between the other parent and the children by siding with the children and thereby forming two camps within the marriage. This often causes the other parent to feel rejected within the marriage. Differences between parents on how to discipline children also create tension in the marriage, to the extent that a  parent feels rejected, especially when one parent reprimands the other in the presence of the children.

7. Finances

In the face of tough times, some marriages spiral downwards. Money or anything related to it is a cause of disagreement between spouses. Married couples, whether happy or not, may have disagreements over little financial issues. Money is not always the sole or primary cause of divorce in married couples and is usually combined with other top reasons for divorce causing distress.

6. Sexual incompatibility

Men and women are different emotionally, mentally, sexually. Things can change as the marriage progress, i.e children, health challenges, career changes etc. In most cases sexual dissatisfaction in a partner usually results in divorce. The issue of sexual incompatibility varies significantly from case to case. If a spouse is not being emotionally and physically fulfilled, he/she will look elsewhere.

5. Addiction

Marriage, family and addiction certainly don’t mix well at all. Any form of addiction have a serious impact on a marriage relationship. Before the internet, strip clubs, videos and DVDs were the catalyst to pornographic addiction. These days more and more people spend countless hours viewing pornography online, buying into a fantasy. Addiction not only has a degrading effect on the person and his/her spouse, but most often it leaves disastrous emotional scars on children, close relatives and friends. Spouse who spend countless hours on social networks to the exclusion of valuable family interaction, create a permanent disconnect that cannot be repaired, and divorce follows. Addiction is like a black hole, sucks everything in its path of destruction throwing a relationship out of balance and the more it continues the stronger it gets.

4. Social Networks – Facebook, Twitter and Mxit

Facebook flirting and comments contribute to an increasing number of divorces and social media is affecting privacy and family interaction. Social media blurs the line between public and private. The nature of Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, Google+ and other social media outlets encourages free-spirited commenting, posting and sharing of information. What’s posted on social networking sites is not as private as you think. Facebook has made it really easy for people to look if the grass is greener on the other side especially when there are so many profiles that are just a click away.

3. Marriage Infidelity

Infidelity, Adultery or more commonly known as “cheating” is on top of the list of reasons for divorce in South Africa. Most people know exactly what infidelity or cheating is but in more formal terms infidelity goes to the root of the basis of any relationship, namely trust and it is a violation of mutually agreed rules or boundaries that a couple assume in their relationship. Adultery may be defined as extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations which renders the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship.

2. Physical, psychological, financial or emotional abuse

Abusers can be either a husband or a wife and it is a big area of concern for many couples. Domestic violence and abuse occur among heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, as well as any people living together in the same household. While women and children are the most victimized, men are also abused, especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes physically too. Domestic violence occurs in all age ranges, ethnic groups, and class levels. Abuse varies from family to family, however in a short list they include things like telling a spouse that they are unwanted, name-calling, ignoring, restricting person to a room, monitoring phone calls, forcing spouse in doing something which they are not comfortable with, withholding of finances etc. Abuse is one of the top reasons for divorce.

1. Lack of communication

Josh Billings once said that “Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute”. The lack of communication is the single biggest cause for divorce and account for almost 70% of all breakdowns in a marriage relationship. Without communication properly no relationship can ever be effective. Communication in a marriage does not mean agreeing with each other. Couples who have communication problems, which usually lead to divorce and breakdown are not able to find the middle way and are not able to compromise. Many couples lack communication when it comes to making decisions about finances. The lack of communication cause financial problems and endless arguments. Many couples also have a complete lack of communication when they have to make decisions about their children for instance. The lack of communication in all areas of marriage cause major damage to the marriage relationship.

About the Author

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 22 years experience in most sectors of the law and 14 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times and magazines such as Noseweek, You and Huisgenoot, and also appeared on SABC television on the 3 Talk TV show. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high networth individuals. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

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