Latest South African Divorce Statistics

2013-02-01 16:48


The 2011 data was published in December 2012 by Statistics South Africa. 20 980 divorces from civil marriages were processed. This indicates a decrease of 1 956 (8,5%) divorces from the 22 936 cases processed in 2010, which may largely be explained by some 2011 divorce forms that did not reach Statistics South Africa before the publication. The total number of divorces generally fluctuated over the period 2002–2011, with the highest number observed in 2005 (32 484) and the lowest in 2011 (20 980).

Population groups

Couples from the white population group dominated the number of divorces between 2002 and 2007, after which the black African couples had the highest number of divorces up to 2011. In 2002, 45,2% of the divorcees were from the white population group whereas 22,5% came from the black African group. By 2011, 35,8% of the divorcees were from the black African population group and 32,1% from the white population group. The proportions of the divorcees from the coloured and the Indian/Asian population groups were quite invariable during the ten-year period. However, there was a notable increase in the proportions of divorcees from the coloured population group (from 13,9% in 2010 to 16,6% in 2011).  The data show that there were more females 10 408 (49,6%) than males 7 212 (34,4%) who instituted divorce (plaintiffs). With the exception of females from the black African population who had a lower proportion of plaintiffs (39,7%), the proportion of female plaintiffs from other population groups was above 50,0%. That is, 56,8%, 56,2% and 52,4% of plaintiffs from the white, coloured and Indian/Asian population groups, respectively, were females.


A high proportion of the plaintiffs (13,5% of the males and 19,4% of the females) did not indicate the type of occupation they were engaged in at the time of divorce. In addition, 27,3% and 30,6% of the males and females respectively were not economically active at the time of divorce. For specified occupations, most of those who divorced in 2011 were in clerical and sales occupations (11,5%) and managers and administrators (10,2%), with some differences observed by sex of the plaintiff. Husbands who divorced were largely managers and administrators (14,7%) while females who divorces were mainly in clerical and sales occupations (18,2%). Less than a quarter of males (23,6%) and females (20,2%) were in the professional and managerial occupations. Very few plaintiffs were in farming and related occupations.

Number of times married

The 2011 divorce cases for both males and females were mainly from individuals who had married once. About 80,0% of divorces for males and females were from first-time 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 at the time of divorce

The median ages at divorce in 2011 were 42 years for males and 38 years for females, indicating that males generally divorced at older ages than females, with a difference of about four years. The median age for males was up from 41 years in 2010 while it remained the same for females for 2010 and 2011. The pattern of median ages in 2011 by population group shows that black African males had the highest median age (43 years) at the time of divorce while females from the mixed group had the lowest median age (34 years). The age difference at the time of divorce was highest for black African couples (five years) and was between two and three years for other couples. 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 younger (less than 25 years old) and the older (55 years and older) divorcees. For male divorcees, the peak age group at divorce was 35–39 for Indian/Asian and coloured population groups while the peak for the black African and white population groups was 40–44. In the case of females, the peak age group was generally at age group 35–39 for all population groups.

Duration of marriage of divorcing couples

The largest number [5 535 (26,4%)] of the divorces were for marriages that lasted between five and nine years. This group is followed by marriages that lasted less than five years [4 489 (21,4%)]. Thus, almost half (47,8%) of the 20 980 divorces in 2011 were marriages that lasted for less than 10 years. Divorces for the black African, coloured and Indian/Asian population groups occurred mostly to couples who had married for five to nine years whereas for the white population group those that divorced did so mostly during their first five years of marriage. Furthermore, the number of divorces for the white population consistently declined as the duration of marriage increased and this pattern is observed for marriages lasting for five to nine years for the other population groups.

Divorces involving couples with children

In 2011, 11 475 (54,7%) of the 20 980 divorces had children younger than 18 years. The proportions of divorces with children were quite high among the coloured population group (64,4%), Indians/Asians (57,8%) and the black Africans (57,1%). The distribution of the number of children affected by divorce shows that 37,4% were from the black African population group; 27,1% from the white population group and 20,2% from the coloured population group. There were 18 571 children (younger than 18 years old) involved in divorce indicating that, on average, there was between one and two children per divorce.

Compiled by:

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

A:1st Floor, 56 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town, 8000

O: +27 (0) 21 422 1323

Twitter: @bertuspreller


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