What you need to know and do if you’re heading for the divorce courts
No matter the circumstances, a divorce is never an easy process, and has the potential to leave you devastated and in a state of confusion. It’s even more complicated and delicate when there are children involved. There’s no doubt you and your family’s lives will change, but the most important thing when it comes to divorce is to stay informed and take care of yourself.
First things first
Stacey Lewis, divorce coach, founder of Thedivorcesource.co.za, and author of Divorce 101: Survive and Thrive, says the first crucial aspects to consider are your emotional health and the type of divorce. ‘Divorces take time, and if at all possible, discuss interim plans like who will be paying for what until the divorce goes through,’ she says. ‘From an emotional perspective, rally support for yourself as divorce can be exceptionally stressful. I liken a divorce to running a marathon.’ Stacey says if you and your partner are at peace and would like to conclude the process as soon as possible, mediation is your best bet, because it’s the cheapest and least stressful. However, if the terms of the divorce are not straightforward, it will take much longer to complete and be more expensive. Here’s what you need to know…
If they ‘turn off the taps’
If you were a stay-at-home parent and your spouse was supporting you financially, it could happen that your partner suddenly defaults on payments. In this case you may approach the High Court for a Rule 43 or Rule 58 of the magistrate’s court, for an interim maintenance and/or contact application. ‘These are truncated procedures, designed to be heard speedily so as to minimise the effects someone may be exposed to should a spouse “turn off the taps” in a financial sense. In such procedures, you can request and obtain maintenance for yourself and the children,’ advise Megan Harrington-Johnson and Richard Wands, founding partners of HJW Attorneys. South African courts do not differentiate in terms of gender roles, so whether it was a husband supporting his wife, or vice versa, the dependent spouse is entitled to approach the court for maintenance should the non-dependent spouse cease paying while divorce proceedings continue.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to Divorcelaws.co.za, a divorcing spouse who has no income can have their legal costs covered by their soon-to-be expartner. This allows for the procedure to be fair, so that one spouse who can afford to pay for an attorney doesn’t have an advantage over the unemployed partner.
Check your finances
If you were earning your own income, it’s important that you do a reality check on your finances. In Divorce 101, financial advisor Evan Cohen advises preparing a budget in order to know how much you’re able to live on until the divorce is finalised. ‘List your income and expenses on a monthly basis and eliminate every unnecessary cost as this could place added financial pressure on you,’ says Evan.
- Create an asset register with all your assets’ current values and differentiate between those owned jointly and separately.
- Liabilities vs assets: If there are certain liabilities you don’t need or can’t afford, then consider letting them go. For example, if you have two cars you can sell one to accumulate money that can go towards your legal fees or as a deposit for a new place should you decide to sell your home.
- Don’t spend more than you earn, and avoid using your credit card, dipping into your overdraft or taking further loans, unless in a case of an emergency.
Get your own attorney separate from your partner’s. This way you can be sure your attorney will always have your best interests at heart and won’t be conflicted between you and your partner’s demands.
Now that you’ll be apart, you’ll need to work out a plan regarding children’s needs and wellbeing. In Divorce 101 Nina Mensing, counsellor and accredited mediator with Family Mediators’ Association of the Cape (FA MAC ), notes that children’s maintenance is not necessarily a 50/50 split between parents. This is in order to ensure fairness and that the children get the necessary support until they’re old enough to take care of themselves. ‘If one parent earns twice as much as the other parent, then they’ll pay twice as much towards the child’s expenses. Maintenance is easy enough to work out if both parents earn a stable income, and their expenses are separate. It can become complicated when parents have various businesses and interests, earn on commission and have very different expenses.’ In this case it would be advisable to ask a third party to help you, if you don’t already have your own attorney representing you. If one of you is not working you can claim maintenance while things are being finalised.
Take care of yourself
At this stage, you may have been so preoccupied with taking care of the children and running around with the divorce proceedings that you’ll have forgotten to take care of yourself. ‘There is certainly no recipe or rule as to how you are meant to be, feel or behave. There may be big decisions that lie ahead so it’s important that you surround yourself with a reliable and dependable support structure. A divorce calls upon you to be in two mind frames simultaneously: the first requires that you mourn the loss of what was and what could have been, and the second necessitates a level of clear headedness to navigate this often scary territory. Some people may choose to see a therapist during this time whereas others may surround themselves with individuals who have also been down this path before,’ advises clinical psychologist Liane Lurie. Both Liane and Stacey recommend you look after your body physically through healthy meals, exercise and sufficient sleep. ‘Remind yourself that you are running a marathon. You’re no good to yourself or your children if you’re depleted and exhausted.’
- Set up a routine – this will help give you a sense of control, stability and predictability (especially if the divorce was not your choice).
- Get sufficient sleep – this is an exhausting process and you need enough rest to cope.
- Do one thing a day that makes you happy – whether it’s a long bubble bath, listening to your favourite music or taking the dog for a walk.
- Keep a journal – for some people, writing down all their feelings of anger, hurt and fear helps them process their feelings and makes moving on easier.
- Stacey says getting a life coach to guide her through the divorce was a ‘real game changer. The life coach helped me accept I was getting divorced and to map my way forward to a good life.’
Checklist: Before you sign those documents
Have you thought about:
- The Future
Life becomes more expensive each year, so it’s imperative to add to the maintenance agreement that the money should increase accordingly in order to cover costs such as school fees (including tertiary), food and clothing.
- Your Paperwork / Documents
- ill One of the most important documents you need to revise within the first three months is your will. The law allows up to three months after a divorce to amend it, otherwise your ex-spouse will benefit from the will. Remember to change the beneficiaries on your insurance policies too.
- Medical aid If you were under your soon-to-be exspouse’s medical insurance, you’ll need to get your own as soon possible. You might need to think about getting one even before the divorce is finalised, so you don’t spend any period of time without.
- Paperwork You’ll be required to make available all your documents such as monthly bank statements, tax documentation, contribution and certificates for the past three years, documents related to joint financing and purchases such as the home, and written agreements between the two of you.
Getting all the documents ready yourself, instead of having your attorney do it for you, will save you a lot on fees. Make sure you discuss which documents they need beforehand to avoid duplicate work.
Do your homework
Educate yourself about the laws of divorce – there are many useful websites that can be accessed.
- Divorce 101: Survive and Thrive Book
- SADAG (for mental support)
Source: Your Family magazine