Black African Population Now Account For Highest Number of Divorces in South Africa

2012-01-08 07:30

More divorces are filed in January and February in South Africa than in any of the other months of the year. Being stranded in a bad marriage during the holiday season many spouses find themselves moving into the new year determined to never spend another Christmas in their marriages. This is sad, a reality of the world we live in. Unfortunately in many instances, divorce doesn't end suffering, it actually doubles suffering.

Divorces in January and February annually dramatically escalate, this is often because of spouses being compelled to spend time together on holiday and during this period they scrutinise and evaluate their relationship and come to the conclusion that they are completely incompatible. Couples who marry at a young age are most likely to divorce. According to statistics, it is generally accepted that marriages on average last approximately 10 years. By contrast, a cohabiting relationship is likely to last only two or three years before the couple either marry or break up.

There are numerous reasons being cited for divorce. Finances cause domestic arguments and put a strain on any relationship, potentially resulting in divorce. However, having said that many couples looking to divorce are being forced to stay together under the same roof due to the lack of movement in the housing market and because some simply can’t afford to go through divorce proceedings.

South African Statistics on Divorce

Although the statistics gathered by Stats South Africa may give a good indication as to the prevalence of divorce in South Africa the data only came  from  12  of  the  62  courts  who showed  that  22 936  divorces  were  granted  in  South Africa  in  2010.  Among  these divorcees,  there  was  an  apparent  increase  in  the  proportion  of  divorces  for  black  Africans from 2001 to 2010 while the proportion decreased for the white population group. Divorces were mainly from  people  who  had  married  for  the  first  time.  There were  more  female  than  male  plaintiffs  although  males generally divorced at a later age than females. About 20 383 children were affected by divorces that took place in2010.

Marriages registered

In 2010, 170 826 civil marriages of South African citizens and permanent residents were registered. This number includes 3 830 (2,2%) marriages of South African citizens and permanent residents that were  solemnised outside  the  borders  of  South  Africa  but subsequently  registered  in South  Africa.

Population groups and divorce

In 2010, data on 22 936 divorces from civil marriages were processed, indicating a drop of 7 827 or 25,4% from the 30 763 cases processed in 2009. Generally, the total numbers of divorces show a fluctuating trend over the ten-year period. The distribution of couples divorcing by population group shows that the highest proportion of divorces between 2001 and 2007 came from the white population group followed by the black African population group. In 2001, 43,2% of the divorcees were from the white population group whereas 23,1% came from the African black group. However, from 2008 to 2010, the pattern changed. The black African population exhibited the highest proportion of divorces followed by the white population group. Thus 35,6% of the 2010 divorcees came from the African black population group and 30,5% from the white group. The proportions of the coloured and the Indian/Asian groups were quite variable during the ten year period.

Gender breakdown

In 2010 there were more female 11 309 (49,3%) than male 7 999 (34,9%) initiating divorce. The population group was unspecified in 15,8% of divorces. With the exception of females from the black African  population  group  who had  a  lower  proportion  of  plaintiffs compared  to  males,  the  proportion  of female plaintiffs from the other population groups was above 50,0%. For example, 39,5% of black African plaintiffs were females compared to 57,6% female white plaintiffs. In 2010 divorce cases for both males and females were mainly from people who had married once. About 80,0% of divorces for males and females were from first marriages compared to approximately 10,0% from second time marriages. About 2,0% of males and females were getting divorced for at least the third time.

Age groups

The median age at divorce in 2010 was 41 years for males and 38 years for females. The median age for males was  down  from  42 years  in  2009  but that  of  females  remained  unchanged.  This indicates that males generally divorced at older ages than females, with a difference of about three years in 2010. The pattern of median age by population group and sex in 2010 was basically the same as that observed in 2009 where black African  males  had the  highest  median  age  (44  years)  at  the  time  of  divorce  and  females from  the  Indian/Asian group had the lowest median age (35 years) at the time of divorce. Furthermore, the 2010 data for black African women (38 years) show a drop of one year from 39 years in 2009 whereas the ages for white males and females had increased by one year from 41 and 38 years to 42 and 39 years respectively.

Although  there  are  differences  in  the  ages  at  which  most  males  and females  from  the various  population  groups  divorced,  the age  patterns are  quite  similar.  The data reveal  that  there  were  fewer divorces among the young (less than 25 years old) and the old (55 years and older). For male divorcees, the peak age group at divorce was 35–39 for each of the population groups with the exception of the black Africans which peaked at 40–44. In the case of females, the peak age group was 35–39 for each of the population groups except the Indian/Asian group that peaked at 30-34 and the mixed group that did not show and particular pattern.

Years of marriage

2010 indicate that the largest number 5 989 (27,3%) of the divorces lasted between five and nine years. This group is followed by marriages that lasted less than five years 4 577 (20,9%). Thus, almost half (47,7%) of the 22 936 divorces in 2010 were marriages that lasted less than 10 years.


In  2010,  12  486  (54,4%)  of  the  22  936  divorces  had  children  younger than  18  years. The proportions of divorces with children were quite high among the coloured population group (64,9%), black Africans(58,0%) and the Indians/Asians (55,4%). The distribution of the number of children affected by divorce shows that 37,9% were from the black African population group; 27,6% from the white population group and 17,3% from the coloured population group. Overall, there were 20 383 children (younger than 18 years old) involved in divorce indicating that, on the average, there was between one and two children per divorce.

Sources: Stats South Africa

About the Author

Bertus Preller is a Divorce Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 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 on the expert panel of 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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