How much does a divorce cost? Hard to say but an attorney shares what you can expect

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  • Attorney Simon Dippenaar says the cost of a divorce depends on the type of divorce.
  • The market price for an uncontested divorce is R8000, if there are no children and/or property, up to R15 000 with children/property.
  • However, the final cost will depend on factors that simply can't be known at the outset, such as the level of conflict that may arise. 

People don't get married to get divorced. When times are good in the relationship, it is easy to assume that it is how things will be forever. But unfortunately, the reality is not all marriages make it to the end.

Things change and turn ugly. In fact, according to Stats SA, only 4 out of 10 marriages make it to the 10-year mark in South Africa

Some divorcees have lost their life savings and everything they worked for because proceedings left them financially drained. Not to say your marriage will end in divorce, but it is wise to know the potential cost should it happen. 

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Attorney Simon Dippenaar says the cost of a divorce depends on the type of divorce – either contested or uncontested. "The difference between the two is significant, not only in cost but in time," he explains.

Contested vs uncontested

A contested divorce is one where the parties involved cannot agree on key considerations, such as the division of major assets like property, maintenance, or childcare and contact. In this situation, the divorce goes to trial, which involves court costs as well as the lawyer's time. Costs can mount, as the divorce attorney may need to engage experts to vouch for certain aspects of the case, such as capabilities as a parent.

Often the contested divorce does not make it to trial. Divorce lawyers for both spouses continue to negotiate up to the trial date, and a settlement may be reached at the eleventh hour. But the trial preparation has been done, and many billable hours have been accrued.

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An uncontested divorce is a much more peaceful course of action and one that leaves everyone's dignity intact, and the cost can be predicted. It takes about 6 weeks to finalise.

In between uncontested and contested divorce is mediated divorce. Mediation is recommended when couples try to achieve an uncontested divorce but cannot agree on specific issues. A mediator will work with the couple to facilitate the divorce settlement to avoid a fully litigated or contested divorce.

The mediator is a third party, not employed by the family lawyer, and completely neutral. The mediation process allows the spouses to discuss and debate the terms and conditions of their divorce agreement in a safe environment, with an enabler skilled in helping them reach an acceptable compromise. The mediator's fees are part of the total cost of divorce.

Things like not being civil in approach, not being honest, open and forthright, missing court deadlines, failing to be transparent about financials and valuations and hiding income and assets or making false accusations of abuse may cause delays and are vital in determining how much a divorce will cost. 

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"The market price for an uncontested divorce is R8 000, if there are no children and/or property, up to R15 000 with children/property," Simon explains. 

He continues to say it may be difficult for a lawyer to give an accurate cost estimate, and they may shy away from this question. 

"This should not be a black mark against them, as the final cost will depend on factors that simply can't be known at the outset, such as the level of conflict that may arise. But it is a valid question to ask, as it allows the client to assess the attorney's integrity," he says.

"If they respond that it is difficult to estimate all the costs involved, this is an honest answer. If they flippantly quote a figure that seems optimistically low or is much lower than other lawyers have quoted, it may be a ploy to win the business. Given the value, complexity and urgency, one needs to assess each case on its own merits."

How to protect yourself from the onset

"If there is no antenuptial contract, the marriage is automatically in community of property. All assets of both parties are joined into what is called a “common estate”, which is owned equally by both spouses," he says.

This means that everything earned, bought, inherited or acquired in any way during the marriage becomes part of the common or joint estate, including money in either spouse's bank account.

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"An antenuptial contract sets out the rules and conditions governing the division of assets during marriage and divorce. ANCs don't apply to marriages in community of property. Marriages out of community of property may be with or without accrual. This will determine the division of assets on the dissolution of the marriage.

"Once the couple is at the stage of divorce, the matrimonial regime is in place and can't be altered. There is such a postnuptial contract in which couples married in community of property decide to change their regime after marriage," the attorney shares.

"Still, it involves the cooperation of both spouses and a court order, so it's not a route available to a couple on the verge of divorce. However, finances should be high on the list of considerations. The decisions made now can't be undone or can only be reversed in future with further cost and disruption."

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