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Where a spouse lives in another country, a Plaintiff must first approach the Court by way of what is known in law as an Edictal Citation Application. If granted, this gives the Plaintiff permission to serve the divorce Summons on a spouse in a foreign country.

Edictal Citation involves communicating and corresponding with people in a foreign country, and the posting of documents overseas. When one spouse is living in South Africa and the other overseas, he or she is able to institute divorce proceedings through the divorce courts in South Africa. In terms of the South African Divorce Act, a South African Court will have jurisdiction where the parties or either one of the parties are domiciled in the area of the Court’s jurisdiction on the date on which the action is instituted, or ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the Court on the date on which the action is instituted or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic of South Africa for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date.

Nowadays, with social media and technology, a couple can easily get married in one country, spend most of their married life in another country, and get divorced in a different country altogether. 

A Summons in a Divorce must be served on the spouse, namely the Defendant in person. A Summons can never be served via email or by registered post in Divorce proceedings. The Court must be satisfied that there is no other way to serve the Summons and that service of the Summons will be done properly by an official of the court, such as a Sheriff or a Service Processor in the foreign country. If the application is successful, the Court will grant an Order that the Summons be served on the absent spouse at either their home or their place of work.

After being served the Summons in the foreign country, the spouse will have a month to defend the action. If he/she ignores the Summons, or enters an Appearance to Defend the divorce, and after settling the financial terms, the divorce may be set down for hearing on a date that has been pre-arranged with the Registrar of the High Court.Thereafter the divorce can be finalised.

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Author – Kate Bailey – Hill

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