This was proved yet again in the high court in Pretoria this week when a woman from Theresa Park, north of Pretoria, turned to the court in desperation.
The woman, identified only as M as parties in divorce proceedings may not by law be identified, said her husband, identified as F, had been ducking and diving for months now.
He left their home about six years ago and she had heard of him a handful of times since then. She had no idea where he was. His family said they did not know and even two tracing agents whom she hired to locate him were unable to trace him.
In desperation, she left him a WhatsApp message a few months ago on a number she was not even sure was still in use, reading “I want to divorce you”.
F, out of the blue, responded that he was on his way to Pretoria, and he would then sign his divorce papers.
But the wife told the court she was still waiting for F to arrive.
He may duck and dive, but he may also find himself divorced without knowing it.
Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela issued an order that the woman could serve the divorce summons on her husband via WhatsApp message as a PDF file attachment. F was given 20 days in which to respond to the message. If he did not, she could go ahead and obtain her divorce.
Just to make sure F was aware of what was waiting for him, the judge ruled that his order had to be published in one major newspaper in the country, this because his wife said he was a man who enjoyed reading his newspapers when they were still together.
M said in papers before the court that neither F’s son nor his sister knew where he was. The sister said she, too, was looking for him because he owed her money. F left her in 2012, she said, and over the years promised via text messages that he was on his way to Pretoria, but he never made it.
“I could gather from the messages that he is living a nomadic life, without employment and begging for food to stay alive He left no address when he left home.”
His only response to one of her messages that she wanted to finalise their divorce was a thumbs-up icon.
M said she had now had enough and she wanted her divorce.
Veteran divorce lawyer Selwyn Shapiro said he had received orders in the past allowing him to serve summons on a missing spouse via e-mail and even once via Facebook’s closed e-mail inbox but never via WhatsApp.
He said because a divorce could alter a person’s personal status, summons had to be served personally. But where a spouse had disappeared, provision could be made for substituted service.