Rights and obligations of unmarried fathers – a court should never be biased


Rights and obligations of unmarried fathers

The facts in FS v JJ and Another 2011 (3) SA 126 (SCA) were as follows. A child, C, was born while the appellant, the father, and her mother, who died shortly after her birth, were living together. They intended to marry. The first respondent was C’s maternal grandmother, who was married to the second respondent (the grandparents). The father and grandparents had been engaged in a protracted battle for the custody of C, during which several applications were heard in the Northern and Western Cape High Courts. The present appeal was against a series of orders made by Kgomo JP in the Northern Cape High Court in terms of which custody of C was awarded to the grandparents – an order at odds with the other orders made by both the Northern and Western Cape High Courts.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) was asked to determine, inter alia, the best interests of C, the rights of unmarried fathers, and the extent of grandparents’ rights in respect of their grandchildren.

As to the grandparents’ rights and responsibilities, the court held that these were from 1 April 2010 governed by ss 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act, which governed non-parental rights to care and guardianship. Before then, grandparents had no inherent rights or responsibilities and it was only the High Court that could confer access, custody or guardianship on a grandparent if it was in the best interests of a child, which had to be assessed in the light of the rights of the biological parents.

As far as the father’s allegation of bias by the trial court was concerned, the present court held that it was clear from the conduct and language of Kgomo JP that he was biased against the father and that he had entirely failed to consider C’s best interests. Kgomo JP’s decision in ordering that C be returned to her grandparents had no basis in fact or in law, evinced bias on his part, and failed to consider the only real issue – C’s best interests.

It was clear from the various reports studied by the court that C’s best interests would be served by placing her with her father.

The High Court is the guardian of all children. However at times as seen in this case, the court was biased against the father of the child. One hears allot of father’s complain of a biased attitude that prevails in our courts. Ultimately the only issue that a court should pronounce on is whether its decision is in the best interests of the child. The interests of the parties should always be secondary to that of the child and the court as guardian of all minors should always live up to such expectation.

About the author:

Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Attorney based in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. and deals with Family and Divorce matters across the country. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His clients include celebrities, actors and actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, television presenters and various high net worth individuals.  His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, International Divorce Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, digital rights, media law and criminal law.