The Children’s Act offers parenting plans as a method to regulate and assist parents to agree how to exercise their parental responsibilities and rights.
Section 33(1) of the Children’s Act provides that co-holders of parental rights and responsibilities may agree on a parenting plan that sets out the method and mode of how each parent will exercise his/her rights over the children. Parenting Plans must comply with the best interests of the child standard.
It frequently happens that one parent will experience difficulties in exercising his/her parental rights, with the other parent deliberately blocking contact or frustrating it where no parenting plan exist or where a court order was made years ago that did not keep track or became outdated with the changes in our family law over the years. Where parents do struggle or where they experience difficulties to exercise these rights, mediation in terms of the Children’s Act is a prerequisite. The Act stipulates that an aggrieved parent must first seek the assistance of the Family Advocate, social worker or psychologist. Alternatively they must go to mediation facilitated by a social worker or other suitably qualified person.
The Children’s Act discourages parents from approaching the court as a first resort when they experience difficulties in exercising their rights and responsibilities. The Act use the word “must” in section 33(5) which means that parties’ are compelled to refer to seek assistance or mediation prior to embarking on court action. The Act also lays down certain guidelines concerning parenting plans, for example that it must be in writing and that it must be registered with a Family Advocate Office or made an order of court. To register a parenting plan at the office of the Family Advocate a prescribed form must be used.
Once a parenting plan is in place it may be amended, suspended or terminated. Where a plan was registered at the office of the Family Advocate the parties must apply to the Family Advocate Office to amend, suspend or terminate the plan and in the event that it was made an order of court an application should be made to court to vary the plan.
One must distinguish between Parental Responsibilities and Rights Agreements (PRR) made in terms of section 22 and Parenting Plans in terms of section 33 of the Act. PRR plans are usually entered into where a mother or other person comes to an agreement with the biological father of the child and encompass an agreement with a party that did not have rights in terms of section 21. Such an agreement confers rights and the agreement is typically between unmarried parents.
Parenting Plans on the other hand are usually entered into by co-holders of PRR Plans, the agreement delineates existing rights and an attempt to agree is a prerequisite in going to court. Typically, such a plan is entered into by divorcing parents and an unmarried father who does qualify in terms of the Act.
Section 35 of the Act contains a provision with its aim to prevent a parent from frustrating the other parent’s rights. If a person under whose care a child is refuse contact with the other parent who is also a co-holder and do so contrary to a court order or registered plan, such person could be found guilty of a criminal offence. Such person can be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year. A person, with whom a child lives, must also notify the other parent of a change of address. Failure could result in a criminal offence.
About Divorce Attorney Cape Town:
Bertus Preller is a Divorce Attorney 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. in Cape Town. 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 areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.