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Drafted by: Nazli

What is a Divorce Lawyer and what does he or she do?
Posted on: 16 Oct, 2018

Divorce Attorney 101: Ever wondered what divorce lawyers do, and which steps to take to become a divorce lawyer?

Nazli Williams (divorce attorney and director at Patton Williams Attorneys and iedivorce) receives multiple requests for divorce attorney job shadowing opportunities weekly. Due to the confidential, sensitive nature of our work, we do not offer job shadowing opportunities at this stage.  We do, however, see the value in telling young, future attorneys more about our profession – before they start studying towards becoming divorce attorneys. This blog post aims to highlight the basics in plain language.

What is the difference between divorce lawyers and divorce attorneys? Are divorce lawyers and divorce attorneys the same profession?

In South Africa LAWYERS can be split up into three categories:

  1. Legal advisors
  2. Advocates
  3. Attorneys

All divorce attorneys are, therefore (divorce) lawyers, but not all lawyers are (divorce) attorneys. All lawyers in South Africa, whether they practice as legal advisors, advocates or attorneys hold law degrees – LLB or BProc – from South African universities. Divorce attorneys are attorneys who work in the field of family and divorce law.

What is a divorce attorney?

A divorce attorney is an attorney who works on divorce cases.  When a marriage relationship irretrievably breaks down, the divorce attorney will assist one of the spouses (his/her client). All legal aspects, including how the immovable and movable assets will be divided, what the care and contact arrangements in respect of the minor children will be and maintenance calculations, shall be addressed by the divorce attorney.

Divorce cases can be simple and fast if both parties agree to the terms of their divorce. In these cases, the divorce attorney will have to draft the necessary divorce papers (like the divorce settlement agreement, parenting plan, affidavit for the Family Advocate and divorce summons) and attend to the necessary arrangements at the Sheriff’s office and Court – to comply with the necessary service requirements and to arrange a suitable court date.

Some divorces can be extremely complicated and acrimonious, making a fast, amicable settlement impossible. In these cases, the divorce attorney’s skills, expertise and knowledge about the relevant legislation, court rules and case law will be of vital importance. The divorce attorney will not only assist with the paperwork but will have to fight the battle on behalf of his/her client.

Great divorce attorneys are usually great listeners, non-judgmental, analytical and strong in character. They value integrity, honesty and always keep their clients updated with the progress in their divorce cases.

Why do people need divorce attorneys?

When a marriage relationship breaks down, it can be a highly emotional and stressful time for both spouses. Even though it is possible for a person or couple to finalise divorce matters without the assistance of an attorney, it is usually not recommended.

Divorce matters can be or become extremely complex, hence the need for a professional divorce attorney to ensure:

  • That the paperwork is in order,
  • That the client understands his/her rights,
  • That the client’s rights are protected as much as possible;
  • That the correct procedures are followed,
  • That there is compliance with the court rules and
  • That there is an alternative route for communication with the client’s spouse (via his/her attorney) to prevent further conflict between the parties.

What does a divorce attorney/lawyer do?

Divorce attorneys do a wide range of tasks, including but not limited to:

  • Consulting with clients,
  • Drafting of letters, pleadings (court documents), emails,
  • Peruse documents,
  • Make and receive phone calls,
  • Attend at Court for administrative tasks or to appear,
  • Brief advocates,
  • Attend at Court with advocates,
  • Attend roundtable meetings,
  • Continue to learn about the latest developments in the field of divorce law,
  • Ensure that the court files are in order and
  • Legal research.

How do you become a divorce attorney?

  1. To become a divorce attorney in South Africa you will need a Bachelor of Law Degree, also called LLB Degree, from a South African university. This first step takes a minimum of 4 years.
  2. Thereafter you will have to serve your articles of clerkship for 2 years (you are now called a clerk or a candidate attorney) under an attorney that complies with certain requirements – called your principal. Alternatively, you can attend law school for 6 months and only serve articles for a 1-year period under your principal. The Legal Practice Act (LPA) sets out the requirements in this regard for both candidate attorneys and principals.
  3. During your article period, you will have to pass four professional/admission examinations (Legal Ethics, Attorneys’ Bookkeeping, Wills and Estates and High court & Magistrate’s court practice, Criminal Procedure and Motor Vehicle Accident Claims).
  4. You will also need to attend a Practical Legal Training (PLT) course.
  5. If you are going to practice for your own account you will need to satisfactorily do the Practice Management Training (PMT) course in addition to PLT before 31 December of the year following the year in which the first Legal Practitioner’s Fidelity Fund certificate was issued.
  6. After all of the above have been complied with, you can apply at the High Court to be admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa.
  7. Once you are a practising attorney with a trust account and a valid Legal Practitioner’s Fidelity fund certificate you can take on divorce matters and specialise in family/divorce law matters. You will then be called a “divorce attorney”.

Are there different types of divorce attorneys?

No, there is no formal distinction between different types of divorce attorneys.

Up Next –  How to choose a divorce attorney?

Selecting an attorney to represent you in your divorce case is more than just picking a name; it means establishing a relationship that will continue for months or until such time as the divorce is granted. It is important to appoint a knowledgeable person who is right for you and your case.

In our next article, we will provide you with practical questions to consider, and steps to follow when choosing a divorce attorney.

Divorce Attorney Cape Town, Nazli WilliamsNazli Williams (BCom; LLB), divorce attorney at iedivorce, and director at Patton Williams Attorneys is an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa, specialising in Divorce and Family Law matters. Her fields of expertise and interest include Divorce Law, Family Law and International Divorce Law. Her vision is to demystify Family Law processes, helping good people in plain language and with great technology, to achieve remarkable results.

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