South Africa’s surprising DIY divorce statistics

People who choose to get married never quite think that their fairy-tale wedding and romantic honeymoon would, ultimately, lead to a divorce
People who choose to get married never quite think that their fairy-tale wedding and romantic honeymoon would, ultimately, lead to a divorce

Data storytelling uses statistics to tell stories: to glean information about what people want, and how they’re getting it.

In the process of helping people with their divorces, the experts at collect a lot of information, and, they tell us, they wanted to use this information to get a picture of what kind of people are involved in DIY divorces and how they might be different from the average South African divorcee.

Also see: The Dignified Divorce Series aims to help people who are undertaking consensual divorces, that is, when agree on their divorce, especially with regards to division of assets and maintenance of children. 

They shared their insights with us here:

Initiation and custody 

In 62% of DIYorce cases the plaintiff is the wife, which contrasts with 51% of divorces countrywide.

It seems that women are more motivated to initiate a DIY divorce. There is a gender stereotype of women being the primary caregiver: this stereotype is sustained in that in 79% of cases the mother gets custody of the children.

In South Africa, 55% of all divorcing couples had kids of less than 18 years old. In DIY divorces, we see an average of 1.85 kids per divorce - when children are involved.

This contrasts with the average woman having 2.5 children in South Africa so the average DIY divorce involves fewer children than the average South African family.

This could be because of a different social group, or because of additional children in other relationships.

Why people get divorced

According to our statistics, most people have multiple reasons for divorce, they aren’t just getting divorced for one reason.

The most popular single reason, cited by 16% of respondents, is:

"There is no love, respect or affection between the parties."

Many responses included specific issues with a partner, including adultery and substance abuse (either excessive drinking or drugs).

This was more of an issue with women being the plaintiff, and could contribute to the lack of "respect between the parties" being the most common reason to divorce.

Division of finances

In DIY divorces, 59% of all cases result in maintenance being paid, and there don’t seem to be many major struggles in managing finances when divorcing.

Looking at the plaintiff, we see there is a ratio of expense vs. income of 0.77. What this means is that most plaintiffs seem to cover their expenses and have 23% of their income available to spend.

Their partners appear even more well off with 28% of their income available to spend. This figure may be skewed, however, as this is reported by the plaintiff who could have a different picture of their financial situation, and a vested interest in getting access to more maintenance.

When it comes to marriage structures, most people are married in community of property (71%), followed by out of community with accrual (21%) and very few are married out of community without accrual (7%)

Marriage duration

DIY divorces seem to be most popular with people who quickly realise they have made a mistake: our average length of marriage is 9.4 months.

This contrasts with the countrywide average which shows that 44% of divorces are less than 10 years, with the highest number being between 5 and 9 years.

The interesting insights that emerge from this data are that DIY divorces seem to be for shorter duration marriages and they’re mostly initiated by the wife (who tends to have to take care of the children, if there are children).

In short

Few divorces have a single reason, but the most common reason cited is a lack of love, respect or affection between the parties. Although maintenance is paid in slightly more divorces, people tend to be able to afford their lifestyles already. And most people were married in community of property. 

For those looking for a simple, consensual divorce without the huge expense and inconvenience of a lawyer, DIY divorce is an elegant solution. As this data illustration shows, it suits a very specific kind of divorcee.

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