Why is my divorce taking so long? How long does it take to get divorced? The first question which I am always asked when a potential client phones me for a quote is that relating to the length of the divorce. How long will it take for me before I get divorced?
From the time of my first consultation with a client it usually takes approximately two weeks at the most before the divorce summons is served. Once it is served the defendant has either ten days (in the High Court) or thirty days (in the lower court) to decide whether he/she wants to defend the matter. Either of these periods can however be waived should the defendant sign a notice of non-defence.
An uncontested divorce can therefore take anything from two to six weeks before being finalised in court. An attorneys can often secure a court date straight away when a case is uncontested. The price for such a divorce could vary from approximately R5000 to R10 000, depending on how long it takes the attorney to draft the settlement agreement. When there are children involved and substantial assets, it is more difficult for example to draft a settlement agreement than when there are no children and no assets.
A contested matter on the other hand can last any duration of time from a few months to a year or even a few years. It all really depends on whether the parties are willing to try settle the case outside court or not.
When a matter is contested what really leads to the delay normally is a failure by one or both parties to furnish the other party with a true and accurate reflection of the value of the assets. Sometimes the matter is postponed for a report by the family advocate or for a party to obtain a valuation on a house or car or pension fund.
I recently had a case where I acted for a lady from the neighbourhood where I live. Both her and her husband had other attorneys before I came on record. The case lasted four years. There was a family advocate investigation and the husband never co-operated in furnishing us with a valuation of the house owned by the parties.
The final hurdle to overcome involves securing a court date once the court pleadings are closed. There is a huge backlog of work in the Cape High court and we are lucky to get a trial date within two years of applying. In the Cape Southern Divorce Court it usually takes about five months after applying to get a date.
When it comes to applying for a trial date if a case is contested, us attorneys are very much in the hands of the court. Clients often don't understand this. Sometimes we simply just have to wait and wait for a trial date.
When a case is contested attorneys normally charge an hourly rate of between R500 and R1000. Since these matters take long to finalise, first prize would be to settle outside court. If this is not possible a client must be prepared to spend money and often endure the a long wait for a court date.
article written by Cape Town divorce lawyer, Peter M Baker