How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Finalising a divorce from overseas

Can I leave South Africa to go overseas while getting divorced?

Many a client asks me this question. The simple reality of the matter is that it is far easier to finalise a divorce whilst living in the same province as your spouse, and being in the same suburb as your attorney.

Ninety-nine percent of divorce cases get settled at a so-called "roundtable meeting", where the two attorneys and the two spouses would be present. Most of the time the two attorneys would sit together in the same office first and leave the two clients in their own separate offices. After discussing the case each attorney would then approach his or her client individually and take further instructions.

The aim of the "roundtable meeting" would usually be to settle the whole divorce, although such a meeting can be called with the aim of settling only a certain aspect of the divorce, for example child maintenance or contact with the minor child. The aim of keeping the spouses apart no doubt is to avoid any possible arguments between the parties. If the matter is settled at the meeting, a settlement agreement would be drafted and signed either there and then, or the parties would agree that one of the attorneys would draft it, and it could be signed at a later stage.

Usually the roundtable is held at the offices of the senior attorney. This is in terms of the protocol set by the law society. The meeting would usually be in the boardroom of the attorney, although it can be held anywhere, including the advocate's chambers or at a consulting room at the actual court.

Many a client of mine reside overseas whilst his or her spouse is in Cape Town. It is simply not possible to have a roundtable meeting while your client is overseas. I as attorney can however attend such a meeting on my client's behalf if he or she is available telephonically. First prize however when trying to settle the divorce is if the client is present at the meeting.

I have had a few clients who had to leave Cape Town and South Africa to work overseas, whilst the divorce was underway in South Africa. A divorce can take a year or two, even longer. My advice to them would be that they can go, but it may delay the finalisation of the divorce.

The internet is a marvellous thing, and one also has Skype to communicate with clients, but when trying to settle a divorce nothing beats the actual physical presence of having your client close by. When the matter is settled one of the two parties will have to appear in court in person anyway, so a divorce cannot be finalised in court if your presence is required and your spouse does not agree to attend on your behalf.

It is not always possible for clients to stay in South Africa while waiting for the divorce to be finalised. My advice would be however to do everything in your power to remain here until the divorce is finalised. One can sign a settlement agreement from a different country and post it back here, but very often a "roundtable meeting" or two is required before being able to settle the matter.

This article was written by Cape Town divorce specialist, Peter M Baker

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