How to do a DIY divorce online cheaply

Angelique Ruzicka looks at the increasing case of the ‘divorce selfie’, and asks whether couples can actually split cheaply and amicably.

Divorce lawyers typically see a spike in couples seeking to split in January, and the first working Monday of the month is known as ‘Divorce Day’. For 2017, it would have been 9 January. Couples typically wait till January to file for divorce as they want to keep the festive season argument and tension free so they tend to limp through Christmas and New Year and then break the sad news after all the family gatherings and present swapping is over.

Every year, tens of thousands of South Africans get divorced. According to Statistics South Africa, the divorce rate has increased by nearly 5% since 2012, while the number of marriages have decreased. Divorces in 2014 totalled 21 998, which is an increase of 4.9% from the 20 980 cases in 2011.

Parting ways with your spouse can be emotionally painful and if you get lawyers involved can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of Rands. But increasingly, DIY services are popping up online that are offering couples the ability to split (if they want to do so amicably) at a fraction of a cost. These online selfie divorce services only charge a couple of hundred Rand for a basic package which will help you put the documentation together but they also tend to offer a more expensive (but still reasonably priced) alternative if you do need to get a lawyer involved.

I talk to Denise Hefer of iDivorce, which says it helps couples to part ways for as little as R1,000, to find out more about her company’s services, and what it involves:

  1. How easy/difficult is it to get a divorce online in South Africa?

Simple, as long as the divorce action is unopposed i.e. the parties both agree on the terms of settlement.

  1. What documentation do you need?

Completion, in full detail, of our online questionnaire. Clients will need their ID’s, marriage certificate (and Antenuptial Contract if applicable).

  1. What if the divorce is contested?

Clients will not qualify for a DIY divorce if their matter is contested/parties not in agreement with settlement terms.

  1. Can only amicable (or straightforward) divorces be conducted online or can you smooth out custody issues/battles through it as well?

Clients can approach a family law attorney or facilitator to settle contract/custody issues and then approach us once the matter has been settled between them.

  1. What does it cost if couples are in agreement on everything?

Clients have two options: The Silver DIY Package, which costs R1, 000 (excluding sheriff’s service fees) or Platinum Attorney-assisted Package, which costs R6, 500 (excluding sheriff’s service fees). The latter is a “luxury” package where a law firm does all the court and sheriff processing on behalf of the client and the client is accompanied to court by an attorney on the date of their divorce hearing.

  1. How much would you save with an online divorce compared to how much it would cost with a divorce where lawyers are involved, etc.?

Totally impossible to say – it depends totally on how many attorney consultations, advocate consultations, court applications are involved, as well as whether correspondent law firms and/or forensic auditors are required, also on the duration of the processes and whether the matter goes to trial.

For example, my divorce was contested. It took four years to settle, each party required their own attorney, advocate, correspondent attorneys and I required a forensic auditor’s services. The matter was settled out of court three days prior to commencement of trial. Our combined costs totalled R1.2 million (no exaggeration!).

  1. Is the DIY divorce for everyone?

Conducting one’s own divorce without any assistance whatsoever is very risky as there are many legal factors that come into play, particularly if the parties are married in community of property or if there are to be pension claims made by either or both parties.

Accuracy of the settlement agreement content is vital, especially in regard to maintenance and contact rights if there are minor children involved. All our documentation is checked and endorsed by Bertus Preller & Associates, a family law boutique in Cape Town, thereby ensuring the professionalism of the legal content of all documentation.

If you believe that going the route of the selfie divorce is for you the next steps are fairly straightforward. With iDivorce, all you have to do is fill out a divorce questionnaire, pay the R1, 000 and the company will generate the documents for you online and email them to you for you to use in court.

Besides the cost of the divorce, remember that it will also cost more to live alone as you no longer share your financial responsibilities with your spouse. Now you will have to pay a mortgage/rent and all other related costs of a home yourself. While you may get a spousal support allowance once the divorce comes through there could be a lot of other unforeseen expenses that you may have to pay for, such as for your child to see a therapist and deposits if you choose to rent instead of buying. If you are going through a divorce or are considering a split, speak financial adviser who can give you advice about the financial consequences.

For more information about iDivorce and its DIY divorce processes, click here.