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10 most common reasons South Africans get divorced


Data from the Department of Social Development in 2021 shows South Africa has seen a steady decline in traditional ‘nuclear’ families, with similar changes in divorce and marriage rates being seen over the last decade.

Other metrics show that there has been a steady increase in divorce rates across the country.

Together, the decrease in marriage and increase in divorce has led to a sustained decline in couple-headed households for some time in South Africa, according to the department.

Legal experts have also pointed to a surge in new divorce instructions in the country since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Family lawyers say that February and March are typically divorce filing months, however, the pandemic caused a spike in other months amid increased job losses, and psychological effects including anxiety and depression, while couples were also forced into close proximity for extended periods of time during lockdown.

Head of the family and divorce law department at Maurice Phillips Wisenberg Attorneys, Bertus Preller, provided the 10 most common reasons for divorce:


10. Difference in priorities

The difference in priorities amongst married couples, which many men and women discuss and anticipate before their marriage, becomes a significant issue in the later stages of many marriages. If one spouse wants to start a family and the other does not, it may create immense conflict.

One spouse often spends less time with their family and focuses on other priorities. This often creates a struggle for any marriage to survive. No matter how much the spouses try to harmonise their priorities, they still remain completely unique, distinct, and completely different individuals.


9. Religious Differences

Couples of a different religion, culture or ethnicity sometimes disregard the expectations of their partner’s religion, and this often causes resentment amongst them.

These differences are mainly due to the several taboos posed by a specific culture. Besides this, most parents prefer that the children’s religion be the same as themselves.


8. Parental Responsibilities

It often happens that spouses aren’t able to constructively co-parent children during the marriage. Children are reflections of ourselves, and sometimes parents cannot let go of their egos and put their children in the back-burner.

Differences in ideas on how to raise children properly cause rifts in marriages, contributing to the list of reasons for divorce. One parent often creates a rift between the other parent and the children by siding with the children and thereby forming two camps within the marriage.

This often causes the other parent to feel rejected within the marriage. Differences between parents on how to discipline children also create tension in the marriage, to the extent that a parent feels rejected, especially when one parent reprimands the other in the presence of the children.


7. Finances

In the face of tough times, some marriages spiral downwards. Money or anything related to it is a cause of disagreement between spouses.

Whether happy or not, married couples may have disagreements over minor financial issues. Money is not always the sole or primary cause of divorce in married couples and is usually combined with other top reasons for divorce causing distress.


6. Sexual incompatibility

Men and women are different emotionally, mentally, sexually. Things can change as the marriage progress, i.e. children, health challenges, career changes etc.

In most cases, sexual dissatisfaction in a partner usually results in divorce. The issue of sexual incompatibility varies significantly from case to case. If a spouse is not emotionally and physically fulfilled, they will look elsewhere.


5. Addiction

Marriage, family, and addiction certainly don’t mix well at all. Any form of addiction has a severe impact on a marriage relationship.


4. Social Networks

Facebook flirting and comments contribute to an increasing number of divorces, and social media is affecting privacy and family interaction. Social media blurs the line between public and private.

The nature of social media outlets encourages free-spirited commenting, posting and sharing of information. Facebook has made it easy for people to look if the grass is greener on the other side, especially when so many profiles are just a click away.


3. Marriage Infidelity

Infidelity, Adultery or more commonly known as “cheating”, is on top of the list of reasons for divorce in South Africa.

Most people know precisely what infidelity or cheating is but in more formal terms, infidelity goes to the root of the basis of any relationship, namely trust, and it is a violation of mutually agreed rules or boundaries that a couple assumes in their relationship.

Adultery may be defined as extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations which renders the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship.


2. Physical, psychological, financial or emotional abuse

Abusers can be either a husband or a wife, and it is a significant area of concern for many couples. Domestic violence and abuse occur among heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, and any people living together in the same household.

While women and children are the most victimised, men are also abused, especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes physically too. Domestic violence occurs in all age ranges, ethnic groups, and class levels.

Abuse varies from family to family; however, in a shortlist, they include things like telling a spouse that they are unwanted, name-calling, ignoring, restricting a person to a room, monitoring phone calls, forcing the spouse is doing something which they are not comfortable with, withholding of finances etc. Abuse is one of the top reasons for divorce.


1. Lack of communication

Without communication properly, no relationship can ever be adequate. Communication in a marriage does not mean agreeing with each other. Couples who have communication problems, which usually lead to divorce and breakdown, cannot find the middle way and cannot compromise.

Many teams lack communication when it comes to making decisions about finances. The lack of communication causes financial problems and endless arguments. Many couples also have a complete lack of communication when they have to make decisions about their children.

The lack of communication in all areas of marriage causes major damage to the marriage relationship.


Read: A rise in January divorces in South Africa – and the rule you should be aware of



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