What to do when getting a divorce in South Africa

 ·9 Dec 2023

According to legal experts, the December holidays are known as “heartbreak season” or “Dump Month”, with people breaking up to start the year with a clean slate.

Lawyers have unofficially dubbed the first working Monday in January as “National Divorce Day” as divorce inquiries skyrocket.

“While it’s always going to be hard on us emotionally, there are often serious implications for our finances too,” said Queen Malobane, Provincial General Manager: Gauteng at Metropolitan.

“It is important to act quickly to protect yourself financially, as a serious or long-term relationship will generally involve some degree of financial entanglement that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.”

Malobane gave three tips for dealing with the end of a relationship:

Reaching a settlement

Settling with your ex as soon as possible is recommended.

“Sit down with your ex-partner and aim for an amicable discussion to gain a better understanding of what they might be prepared to take care of or pay towards. This is especially important in those cases where you have children together,” Malobane said.

Relooking your budget and lifestyle

After reaching a settlement, you need to adjust your budget for your new financial status.

“You may no longer have access to a joint income, so this will mean reworking your budget based on your current income, which includes any contribution your partner agrees to make.”

“Take a hard look at your earnings and expenses and ask yourself, ‘Do I have enough money to maintain my current lifestyle?’ If the answer is no, see where you might be able to trim. This could involve buying fewer luxuries, consolidating debt, or even moving to a smaller home.”

Update your affairs

Financial affairs also need to be updated, meaning you should check if they are still listed as a beneficiary in your will or insurance.

“Start by listing all of your financial commitments, and work through these to see where your partner might be nominated. You might want to think about updating your will and policies with a new beneficiary, or – in those cases where you were on your partner’s insurance or medical aid – finding cover of your own.

“Removing your ex from certain policies, such as your medical aid or even their belongings from your short-term insurance, will also save some money on your monthly premiums, which you can re-direct towards your budget.”

Thinking ahead

She added that financial difficulties in the future can be avoided by asking your current partner the following questions before getting married or having a serious relationship:

  • What do you earn, what do you spend, and what debt might you have?

Upfront conversations about earnings, expenditure and debt are important. Their relationship with money will affect your life – for better or worse.

  • What is your credit rating?

This will reveal how indebted your partner is and how they can handle their money.

It also can reflect their ability to meet financial commitments, which extends to how they treat other obligations.

  • What are your family dynamics?

It is important to understand a partner’s financial obligations to others, such as a parent or a child from a prior relationship.

Learn the law

Before getting married, one should also educate themselves on marriage contracts.

With no ante-nuptial (prenup), the couple are automatically married in a community of property. This means that you own everything as a couple and are jointly liable.

“When entering a marriage, we want to believe it will be happily ever after, but the reality is, you do not know what might happen down the line. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” Malobane said.

“If you decide to get married in a community of property, ensure that you understand the implications and know that complete financial transparency between you and your partner is more critical than ever.”

However, once married, emotional well-being is still paramount.

“Sometimes, we put up with abuse or terrible behaviour because we are scared of what leaving might mean for us financially. We might stay in a bad relationship out of financial fear.”

“If you decide to leave, know you may need to make certain financial adjustments or get by on a little less for a while, but at the end of the day, your emotional well-being – and that of your children – tops all. It is okay to start over.”

Read: New divorce laws for South Africa take big step forward

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