The effects of lockdown on SA’s divorce rate



Snr. Associate | Attorney

The now-familiar stresses of lockdown – financial pressures, lack of escape from each other, conflicts over the kids, conflicts over chores, lack of exercise – have forced many couples to reconsider how they really feel about their partners. And just as we have seen increases in domestic violence, anxiety, depression, unemployment, loss and grief, many family law attorneys anticipated an increase in divorce directly related to COVID-19.

If a couple was having trouble, most of their previous interactions would been neutral or negative. But now the tension is constant and they’re not able to have their typical routines and ‘escapes’, like doing their own things. At some point the crisis either brings couples together or it makes them realise that they need to get out. Only the strongest relationships are going to survive.  Imagine a couple where three months ago he was traveling for work a lot and now he’s been home for three months, they’re already not getting along, and they don’t know if they can make it work.

Not everyone will indicate whether their divorce was pandemic-related, but there’s no doubt it’s created additional conflict. Still, tracking the cause of the surge in divorce cases following the pandemic is tricky, given that as courts have been closed and are now reopening, so there’s a scramble to deal with the backlog of divorces that were in process, or those break-ups that were a fait accompli before the lockdown was ordered. Legal practitioners are certainly receiving an increase in calls from people who say they’re considering splitting up as soon as they can. Clients are indicating their intention to divorce but court closures, income reduction, job loss, temporary reduction in the value of property have all made it difficult for them to pursue the divorce in the usual manner or time frame.

With the backlog in pending divorce cases and considering that South Africa has yet to reach the peak of COVID-related infections and there is uncertainty as to whether courts will be closed again temporarily, what should couples who have agreed to split up, do in the interim?

If the couple has children, it will be important to put a settlement agreement incorporating a parenting plan in place as part of the divorce discussions. Family law attorneys will be able to guide the couple through this process and facilitate mediation where necessary. Aside from the splitting of assets, parental responsibilities can be the main sticking point of most contested divorces.

Push to try and resolve disputes, such as assets division, collaboratively with your attorneys. Many legal practitioners favour agreements on the “courtroom steps” or as soon as practical (especially when there are minor children involved) so to speak, as this will result in a swifter, more efficient and cost-efficient process in the court.

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