This is a contentious issue; how long should it take for an ex-spouse to become financially independent? In many cases of divorce, there is a spouse who has not worked or does not earn sufficient money to remain financially independent. At the time of divorce, the ex-spouse is expected to help their previous partner by providing maintenance until they are financially stable. Much of the time this spouse is often the guardian of children that belong to the couple, and they therefore need the extra spousal maintenance apart from the maintenance provided for the children.

South African courts do very little to ensure income provision, but where it does occur it is often questioned how long should the partner provide spousal maintenance before the other becomes financially stable. Many women (and a few men who are without employment at the time of divorce) are expected to be self-sufficient in very short time, but in most cases it takes a lot of time for a person who has not had employment to stand on their own two feet.

The truth is that there is no obvious answer, as every case differs. Some ex-partners have very little work experience or qualifications. In other cases, the ex-partner may be expected to look after one or many children, and this can disqualify them from certain jobs. It is ultimately the courts’ responsibility to ensure that there is a parity of income so that both parties have fair opportunity after the divorce. However, the courts should also decide exactly how long spousal maintenance should be paid. It is the ex-partner’s responsibility to restore their financial situation. Based on a number of factors, the court will make their decision of spousal maintenance period, and revisit their decision after this period has ended.