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March 12, 2015

Advice to couples contemplating divorce.

The first question that I ask a couple (or the husband or wife who may see me individually) is whether their marriage has, in fact, broken down irretrievably or whether they shouldn't rather be seeing a marriage counsellor.

If divorce is the only option, I point out that first prize is for the parties to reach agreement so that I can put together a deed of settlement that can be made an order of court. In the settlement I provide for the distribution of assets, maintenance for the wife (if appropriate) and, if there are children, to look after their well-being, and make sure that the dad gets reasonable contact with them.

I emphasise that if the parties are unable to reach agreement they should (and this is now a legal requirement before a matter can be heard by a judge) approach an accredited divorce mediator to facilitate a resolution of the dispute. Depending on the seniority of the mediator, they would be looking at a fee of approximately R 4000. This is significantly cheaper than each approaching a separate lawyer, who will likely dig in their respective heels and posture, each trying to impress his or her client with his or her intractable (and very expensive) way of stringing out the divorce.

In this scenario, the clients get poorer and the lawyers get richer. The parties hate each other even more, and the children are, inevitably, caught in the crossfire.

If sense prevails and the attorneys adopt a holistic approach, the parties can remain on reasonably good terms, the children are less likely to be overly traumatised and the fees will be insignificant.

If at any time a woman feels threatened or intimidated, she must immediately seek independent legal advice, and should never sign any document, before it is first sanctioned by an attorney.

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