What is divorce by substituted service?


Divorce by substituted service can be used when the defendant’s exact whereabouts are unknown. There are many requirements that need to be met for the court to grant a divorce by substituted service.

We have to show, in an affidavit, that every possible attempt has been made to locate the defendant, indicating the steps taken to ascertain their whereabouts. We must also demonstrate that the alternate method of serving the summons (the substituted service) is likely to reach the defendant. We have to prove:

  • We found the defendant’s last known address, including how, when and from whom we obtained it
  • We have asked neighbours, relatives, friends, former employer/s and any other person we think might know where the defendant is about their whereabouts
  • We searched for the defendant online, using search engines such as Google and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
  • We appointed a tracing agent

A written summary of these efforts must be included in our affidavit to the court, listing the names, dates, and results of our enquiries. Once we have shown the court that we are unable to serve the summons on the defendant in person, the court may order any manner of service it deems appropriate, such as publication in a newspaper, service on family members or friends, by fax or email, or even through social media.

The application for substituted service is brought separately from the divorce action. Once the summons has been served by substituted service, we still have to go through the divorce process, either on an unopposed or opposed basis.

Hopefully, the divorce can proceed unopposed. The process ordinarily takes between eight and 12 weeks and costs between R15,000 and R20,000 excluding VAT (and excluding the costs of the substituted service application). This only applies if we manage to locate the spouse or if the spouse approaches us after having received the summons by substituted service.

The matter will be unopposed if the summons is served via substituted service and we receive no notice of intention to defend from the defendant.

However, if the spouse contacts us and there is any aspect of the divorce (i.e. proprietary aspects) which they do not agree to, we will proceed on an opposed basis.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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