• Divorce can be fraught – but it can also be fast and cheap.
  • 25,326 South Africans filed for divorce according to the latest statistics from Stats SA.
  • One online legal documentation service offers a divorce package at just R1,000.
  • But DIY divorces are definitely not for everyone.

Divorces are legendary for bringing out some of the worst, most petty, squabbling imaginable – while the lawyers get rich.

The country's stats authority (Statistics South Africa) reported a slight 0.3% increase in the number of divorces to 25,326 from their latest data. Almost half of these divorces came from marriages that did not make it to their tenth wedding anniversary  most divorces took place after five to nine years of marriage, thus making it the average duration for SA marriages.

But the bickering doesn't have to be a divorce norm. Under just the right circumstances it is possible to have a do-it-yourself divorce, minus the lawyers, the court, and the costs.

And it can take as little as three weeks and cost as little as R1,000 – if all of these things are true.

1. The divorce is genuinely, definitely amicable.

Both spouses must agree on not only parting ways, but how to do it – and how everything will be split. More than half of the divorces were filed by 12,954 wives compared to 8,651 husbands, according to Stats SA.

2. There are little to no assets to be split.

As convenient as a DIY divorce is, many lawyers warn against it when there are complex issues such as the transfer of property and capital gains tax to be dealt with. It is easy to miss the financial implications of a separation when assets are involved in – through nobody's fault – and legal advisors on both sides can help prevent trouble.

3. There are no children involved.

With over half of the divorces in South Africa involving 22,750 kids under 18, according to Stats SA it is fine – and even recommended – that parents draw up a post-divorce parenting plan, but a court has to be involved when it comes to custody. Even family advocates – also recommended early on – only advise a court on what would be best for children, which is the top priority in law.

4. Nobody wants to claim for maintenance, or part of a pension.

People who file for divorce tend not to know that they could claim maintenance from their spouse, even if the spouse is unemployed at the time, says online divorce specialist Denise Hefer of iDivorce – because maintenance can kick in once the spouse secures employment. Most people also don't know that if they are married in community of property, they can claim 50% of a spouse's pension – even before they reach pensionable age, she says.

Those going it alone need to navigate these pitfalls themselves, and that is usually a bad idea, unless everyone is very sure indeed they want no maintenance, and no part of a pension. 

5. Everyone involved is willing to do the paperwork. 

"Online" is something of a misnomer when it comes to DIY divorces.

"The online part means that you fill in a questionnaire online, allowing us to ascertain whether you qualify for our services or not," says Heffer. After payment the legal documents are sent to the soon-to-be-divorcees within days – but they still have to complete all of it, properly, for the deed to be done.

If everyone is meticulous and fast, Heffer says, the divorce can be final in as little as three weeks.

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