• South African courts at all levels are imposing restrictions to comply with the call for social distancing in the face of the novel coronavirus.
  • At magistrate's courts, that means non-urgent matters are being postponed – and in at least one case that includes amicable divorces.
  • If you want to end a marriage in Randburg, you may have to wait at least a month to be heard.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South African divorces are on hold due to the novel coronavirus.

As courts at all levels this week implemented various measures to help curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, magistrate's courts halted proceedings not considered urgent.

And at least one counts divorce among those.

"No new unrepresented unopposed divorce maters will be attend to until beginning of May 2020," read an official sign at the Randburg Magistrate's court on Wednesday.

Amicable divorces can be settled without lawyers. There is an official guide for doing so (which promises it can be achieved in the space of four weeks) and specialised websites that will help you get a DIY divorce for R1 000.

But because of their generally uncomplicated nature, unopposed divorces without lawyers involved do not receive high priority in scheduling, even in ordinary times.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng this week promised that courts would operate largely as usual, with a special focus on hygiene and attempts to limit the number of non-essential people in court buildings.

Magistrates at some courts have been encouraged to handle administrative tasks from home, and legal practitioners have in some cases been ordered to go online – or even use fax – to lodge paperwork.

It is not yet clear how long the drive for social distancing may last, and how courts would deal with a hard lock-down of the kind that have been enforced in other countries.

But, noted one lawyer, friendly divorces are likely to remain at or near the bottom of the priority ladder.

In the meanwhile, online counselling is available in South Africa, with more such providers expected to adopt video conferencing in the near future.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)


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