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DIVORCE IN THE TIME OF CORONA

Divorce can now be handled in a speedier, less stressful manner in these difficult times. This is welcome news, as the divorce process is already a traumatic one.


Thanks to quick adoption of simple, but advanced video communication technology, most family law attorneys are now able to consult via Zoom and Microsoft Teams. You, therefore, still get face-to-face contact and personalised service without having to travel and lose time away from the home or office.


The initial Teams or Zoom consultation is fundamental in helping you understand your rights, what you are entitled to, the legal consequences of a divorce and the process going forward. Afterwards, information and documentation will normally be exchanged electronically between you and your attorney, and video meetings can be held if and as necessary.


The Gauteng division of the High Court, Pretoria and Johannesburg has made technological advances by implementing a digital/electronic case management and litigation system: CaseLines. This means that everything is now done electronically, for example case creation, party/legal representative invitations, document filing and uploading, and case presentation.


All this also applies to divorces. However, a summons still needs to be prepared on behalf of the plaintiff and served upon the defendant, and a return of service needs to be obtained from the relevant sheriff. But the major change that has taken place is that a plaintiff does not have to endure the emotional trauma and time loss associated with physically attending court in an unopposed matter where a settlement agreement has been concluded between the parties.


In unopposed matters, the settlement agreement is normally attached to the summons and particulars of claim, and the defendant will not defend the matter. The matter can then be set down after the expiry of ten days once the summons has been served.


In opposed matters, which become settled later, a notice of withdrawal of defence must be filed before a hearing date can be obtained. Once a date for the divorce hearing has been obtained, you (as plaintiff) will present your attorney with your original marriage certificate. Subsequently, the attorney will depose to an affidavit that he/she has seen the original marriage certificate and that it accords with the pleadings. The marriage certificate will be attached to the affidavit. Your attorney will also arrange for an affidavit to be signed by you (as plaintiff), confirming the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. This affidavit will contain the further submissions necessary to obtain a divorce order. These documents, together with the summons, return of service and a practice note from the advocate will be loaded on CaseLines, and an index and court bundle will be created on the system.


Prior to the hearing, the presiding judge will be invited to view the documents, and the advocate instructed in the matter will present the evidence through Teams or Zoom to the presiding judge on the date of the hearing. If all the documentation is in order, a decree of divorce is granted. The decree of divorce is also uploaded by court officials on the system, which, when ready, will then be forwarded to you by your attorney.


Opposed divorce matters are also handled on CaseLines, but, since they are much lengthier and more involved, and merit a separate discussion

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