Divorce Attorney Cape Town

Divorce and Parenting Plans


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it where no parenting plan exist or where a court order was made years ago that did not keep track or became outdated with the changes in our family law over the years.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 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.

Domestic violence and Facebook


Domestic violence and Facebook

I recently acted in a matter wherein I defended a client on a domestic violence charge who “un-friended” an ex-girlfriend on his facebook profile. After informing his ex that he was going to “delete” her as a friend she approached the magistrate’s court in Cape Town and obtained a restraining order against my client.  She worded her affidavit in support of the interim protection order in such a “creative” fashion that the Magistrate assumed that “delete” actually meant something more serious, possibly a threat to her life. In Domestic Violence cases an applicant usually obtains an interim interdict (without the other party being at court) with a return date upon which the Respondent is called upon to give reasons why the interdict should not be made final. The problem with such orders are that any violation of the order may result in a Respondent being arrested by the South African Police. In my client’s opposing affidavit on the return I stated the following:

The application is… ill-fated and amounts to a mockery of the true objectives of the Domestic Violence Act…Applicant and I (Respondent) never lived together in a relationship or partnership of any sort. [She] was merely a friend like all the other male and female friends that I have… [If] the scope of the Domestic Violence Act were to extend to an area as in this case…any confrontation in the normal scope of a friendship could be construed as domestic violence, with absurd consequences.

Needless to say the ex had to withdraw the application due to the fact that there were simply no grounds to obtain a final order. The case triggered media attention in Noseweek and the editor noted the below.  The full article appear in the September issue of Noseweek and will meet the reader with a shocking example of the trivialisation of domestic violence as you’re likely to find – not to speak of the terrors that lurk on Facebook!

Noseweek Issue #143, 1st September 2011

In considering why a man accused of domestic violence might be stripped of his constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty at a fair trial, Judge Albie Sachs (in a 1999 Constitutional Court judgment) sought guidance from various authorities on the subject. It is clear from the authorities he quoted that what they all have in mind, when speaking of domestic violence, is ongoing, serious violence – or the threat of it – in the intimate, often hidden context of a “domestic relationship”.

So American authority Donna Wills states that “domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, a major factor in female homicide, a contributing factor to female suicide, a major risk for child abuse, and a major precursor for future batterers and violent youth offenders”.

South African author Joanne Fedler talks of “intra-family” offences, that include arson, assault,  threats to do bodily injury, obstructing justice, cruelty to children, incest, kidnapping, murder, culpable homicide, rape, forced prostitution, unlawful entry on to property, malicious damage to property, stalking, theft, robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm, involuntary sodomy, extortion, blackmail and sexual assault.

Any magistrate or legal practitioner that rates a man threatening to “unfriend” an interfering ex-girlfriend from his Facebook page on the same scale as the offences listed above is exposing himself and the law to ridicule.

Judge Sachs’s understanding of the nature of domestic violence is fairly mirrored in public perception: when most people hear that a man has been served with a “restraining” or “protection” order in terms of the Domestic Violence Act, they immediately visualise a pathetic woman bruised and beaten to within an inch of her life, surrounded by weeping, traumatised children – and somewhere skulking in the shameful shadows, an out-of-control, violent, probably drunken brute.

The stigma that attaches to such an order is probably only paralleled by a charge of paedophilia.

The law was designed to provide emergency relief to women in imminent danger of life-threatening physical or ongoing emotional abuse by someone with whom they are, or have been in a “domestic” relationship. Police and magistrates are empowered to come to the immediate aid of such women by issuing interim protection orders without prior notice to the accused person.

Interim orders in terms of the Act are,  therefore, issued pretty much on the woman’s say-so. Which is all the more reason why those entrusted with carrying out the law must do so sensibly and with great care.  Inter alia they must take care to ensure that the reasons advanced by the applicant are not frivolous, and that the problem, if there is one, might not be solved in a way less prejudicial to the accused.

It has been disconcerting to discover that there are a growing number of cases where the legal “short cuts” provided by the Domestic Violence Act, and the stigma that a domestic violence order carries, have been abused by unscrupulous lawyers and vengeful, “scorned” women to punish or blackmail their ex-lovers or, more often, as a cheap and nasty way to gain leverage in a divorce action.

The weakness in the system that unscrupulous lawyers have found and are exploiting is really a failure in the administration of justice: too often the police charged with processing these charges, have so little interest in them that they simply rubber stamp any statement that is handed in by a woman who alleges she is “fearful” because she has been “threatened”, without making any attempt to establish the nature and seriousness of the threat, or to establish just how real and imminent the danger might be.

Too many magistrates are in turn  routinely endorsing the applications by issuing “interim” protection orders – the interim nature of the order offering them an “out”: why, a man wrongfully restrained need simply come to court on the return date and have the order set aside! Never mind the scandal and reputational damage he will undoubtedly have suffered in the meantime. And the legal costs involved. And all the postponements in a congested court system, so that, in the real world, it could be months before he gets his day in court.

Even more serious: in the process they are trivialising domestic violence and, ultimately, undermining public confidence in a law that was enacted to deal with a really terrifying and all too pervasive social problem. Our cover story on page 10 is, in my view, as shocking an example of the trivialisation of domestic violence as you’re likely to find – not to speak of the terrors that lurk on Facebook!

The Editor

Copyright © 2011 www.noseweek.co.za

About the Author

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Bertus Preller & Associates 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.

Adultery, Infidelity, Extra-marital Affairs and Divorce


From a moral, ethical and religious view adultery is a sin and an act contrary to the basis of trust between married spouses and so is the behaviour of that a third party that break up the marriage seen as immoral.  This article is purely focussed on the law and not the public view or for that matter any moral or religious viewpoint.

Adultery may be defined as extramarital sex that wilfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations which renders the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. It is often cited as grounds for divorce. In our law, both the married person and the lover will be regarded as adulterers.

South African law has recognised  claims for damages that can be instituted by an aggrieved spouse against a mistress, but is our law not evolving away from the historic public and religious views? Damages may still be awarded on the basis of the insult caused to the innocent party and of the loss of consortium. Compensation can be claimed for financial loss caused by break-up of the marriage, as well as for the loss of the affection. A court will consider the spouse’s financial and social situation, their moral reputation and the state of the relationship before the adultery was committed. When an innocent spouse’s behaviour was partly responsible for driving his or her partner into another person’s arms, the damages awarded can be considerably lower.

It can however be argued that the South African common law on which a Plaintiff’s claim is predicated for damages against a spouse who committed adultery in a marriage must be developed to promote the spirit, purport and objective of the Bill of Rights contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 (“the Constitution”) and the interests of justice (under Section 39 (2) and section 173 of the Constitution).

According to the view expressed above it is argued that the time has come to develop the common law so as to remove or curtail claims for damages by a married person, utilising the actio iniuriarum, against a person involved in an intimate relationship with the married person’s spouse. The actio iniuriarum is used to claim for the impairment of one’s personality.  The purpose of this action is to compensate for the intentional injury to one’s mental integrity.

The argument against such a claim is that it breaches the right to human dignity (of the adulterer and mistress) under Section 10 of the Constitution, in that:

  • The relationship and love between the adulterer and mistress is treated as morally reprehensible or without opprobrium;
  • The mistress is held wholly responsible for damage caused to an aggrieved spouse by the other spouse’s marital infidelity; and
  • The mistress is treated as an instrument, in that her human relationship with the adulterer is used as a means to express condemnation for the adulterer’s marital infidelity, and/or to generate sympathy for the aggrieved spouse.

It is further argued that such a claim breach the adulterer and mistress’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination under Section 9 of the Constitution on basis of marital status, conscience and belief in that:

  • No similar claim for damages is possible against a person who begins an intimate relationship with a man or a woman involved in a long-term homosexual or heterosexual relationship, customary law marriage or religious union;
  • The emotional consequences and loss for the aggrieved partner (i.e the person who learns of the infidelity of his or her partner with a third person) in all of the above relationships may be no more or less serious than a spouse in a marital relationship;
  • The law accordingly differentiates between a person who enters a relationship with a married person; and a person who enters a relationship with a person in other types of committed, long-term relationships;
  • The differentiation amounts to unfair discrimination on the basis of marital status and on the basis that it impairs, or has the potential to impair, the fundamental human dignity of an adulterer and a mistress.

It can further be argued that an adulterer and mistress’ right to privacy under Section 14 of the Constitution is violated in that it causes a public inquiry into the details of their relationship, how it formed and its strength.

Furthermore it seems that an adulterer and mistress’ rights to freedom of conscience, thought, belief and opinion under Section 15 of the Constitution, expression under Section 16 (1) of the Constitution and freedom of association under Section 18 of the Constitution also come into play for the following reasons:

  • Burdening people such as the mistress with damages will have a detrimental effect on her ability to honestly and openly express her emotions and love for another person;
  • The expression of emotions and love between the adulterer and mistress will be treated as morally reprehensible or tainted with moral opprobrium.

Therefore it seems that the common law must be developed in the interests of justice taking in to account the recognition that both parties contribute to the breakdown of the marriage relationship, which is inherent in the ground for divorce introduced in Section 4 of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979, namely “the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

It is so that many foreign jurisdictions don’t tolerate such claims anymore and that there seems to be developments in South African case law to that effect. The historic view in our law that damages are awarded on the basis of the insult caused to the innocent party and of the loss of consortium seems to be outdated and time will tell on how our courts will develop the common law.

About the Author

Bertus Preller is a Divorce Attorney in Cape Town he specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Bertus Preller & Associates 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.

www.divorceattorney.co.za

info@divorceattorney.co.za

Spousal Maintenance in a Divorce


Maintenance of spouses in divorce

There are basically two options regarding spousal maintenance:

  • Where there is an agreement between the parties
  • Where there is no agreement but where the court makes an order for spousal maintenance

Where the parties agree on the maintenance

Parties in a divorce may enter into a settlement agreement regarding the maintenance that the once spouse will pay to the other. Where the parties only reach an informal agreement without making their agreement an order of court, the agreement remains unenforceable.

Maintenance order in the absence of an agreement

In terms of section 7(2) of the Divorce Act, a court may make a maintenance order in the absence of a written agreement between the parties. Such an order can apply until death or remarriage. The basic principal that will apply is that the party who applies for maintenance must show a need for it and the party against whom the order is made must be able to provide for it.

The court will consider a wide range of factors when it decides on giving the other party maintenance and in section 7(2) of the Divorce Act various factors should be taken into account, these are:

  • The existing and prospective means of the parties
  • The respective earning capacities of the parties
  • The financial needs and obligations of the parties
  • The age of each party
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The standard of living of the parties prior to the divorce
  • The conduct of each of the parties in relation to the breakdown of the marriage
  • Any order in terms of section 7(3) of the Divorce Act (a redistribution order)
  • Any other factor that the court may take into consideration

There are basically three types of maintenance orders:

  • Rehabilitative Maintenance – Where a maintenance order applies for a specific period of time, it is called a rehabilitative maintenance order. This is normally awarded to younger or middle-aged women who have for years devoted themselves to the upbringing of the children and who were full time involved in the household. The purpose of this kind of maintenance is to tie them over to be trained or retrained to find suitable employment.
  • Permanent Maintenance – The court may award lifelong maintenance to a woman that is too old to find a job.
  • Token Maintenance – Token maintenance is an order for a minimal amount. The court will make such an order if there is no reason to grant maintenance at the time of the divorce, but foresees that the spouse may in future need maintenance. The court would then be able to increase the amount in future should the need arise.

It is clear from the wording of section 7 (2) of the Divorce Act that a maintenance order can be made against a husband or a wife. It is also important to note that a court may not consider all the factors listed above before it makes a maintenance order and that a party is not as of right entitled to maintenance.  The factors are not exhausted and one does not have preference over the other. Therefore each case must be considered on its own merits in light of the circumstances and facts peculiar to it and with regard to those factors set out in the Divorce Act.

About the Author

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.

Divorce and Child Abduction in South Africa


DIVORCE AND CHILD ABDUCTION

As a divorce attorney I frequently get instructions to assist a parent whose child has been abducted by the other parent to another country. Frequently it happens that a child visits the other parent in a foreign country by consent between the parents only to find when the child has to return that the other parent wrongfully keeps the child there. International child abduction also happens when one parent takes a child from the country where he or she usually lives to another country without the consent of the other parent.

The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is applicable to matters because of its definition of “rights of custody”. The Hague Convention is broadly worded to also cover for situations where the child has been abducted by a person other than his/her parent.

The Hague Convention only applies if countries ratified the convention. South Africa ratified the Hague Convention and as such it is part of our domestic law. Also section 275 of the South African Children’s Act proclaims that the Hague Convention is part of South African law. The Hague Convention is only applicable to children under the age of 16 years.

The removal or retention of child is unlawful where it breaches the right of contact (custody) that a person obtained in terms of a court order in the area where the child was habitually resident. In order to succeed with an application under the Hague Convention a party must be able to show that a parent is exercising the custody rights at the time of removal or retention of a minor child. When it comes to making a decision to remove a child from the country where he is usually habitant both guardians (parents) must consent, thus if one parent removes a child without the consent of the other parent, the Hague Convention will apply.

If there is a delay in the proceedings of returning the child back to the country where he is usually habitant for more than a year after the proceedings have been lodged, the court is not bound to return the child if he or she has settled into a new environment. In such a case the court will consider the best interests of the child; although a court under a Hague Convention application does not do so. Regulations in the Hague Convention determine that such a matter must be concluded within 6 weeks after commencement of the court proceedings.

There are also exceptions to the rule of peremptory return of a child, namely:

  • Where the person does not have rights to custody or if the parent had consented in the removal of the child.
  •  Where there is a grave risk that the child would be exposed to psychological or physical harm if being returned.
  •  If the child objects being returned and is of such an age and maturity that it is inappropriate to take account of his/her views.

About the Author

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 Bertus Preller & Associates 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 father’s rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Relocation of parents with children, you need the consent of the other parent


Relocation of parents to another province, town or country

Relocation disputes between parents are frequent in our courts. Relocation can involve relocation to another town, province or country.  Where both parents have guardianship it necessarily follows that consent from both parents will be needed when one parent decide to relocate with a minor child. It is important to note that there is no section in the Children’s Act that deals specifically with relocation.  The closest that the Children’s Act gets to relocation is section 45 that deals with the jurisdiction of the court in matters where a child is removed from the Republic of South Africa.

Typically a relocation dispute will arise where one parent, normally the parent of primary residence and with whom the child usually resides decides to leave the country or the province to live elsewhere. It then usually follows that the parent who is left behind refuses or disagrees to give consent that the child leaves with the other parent. Once the other parent disagrees or refuses to give consent, the primary caregiver can approach the High Court for an order dispensing with the other parent’s consent and remove the child to another country or province. It must be noted that it is not a given that the court will automatically give its consent.  The reason therefore is that the Children’s Act does not set criteria and our courts have to consider various facts and case law before it will grant an order to the other parent to move the child.

If one has regards to previous case law it is clear that our courts will only grant permission based on the best interests of the child. An important factor that the court will take into consideration is whether the decision by the parent to relocate is reasonable and bona fide and this will be part of the valuation whether the move will be in the child’s best interests. If the court does find that the plan is reasonable then obviously the court will allow the parent to move the child.  It is evident to note that our courts have taken a pragmatic approach and although the move may be to the detriment of the other parent who will have less contact with the child, life must go on.  Another issue that comes into play is the fact that our courts have to respect the freedom of movement of family life of relocating parents.

The following passage from the case F v F 2006 (3) SA 42 (CA) is of importance:

It is an unfortunate reality of marital breakdown that the former spouses must go their separate ways and reconstruct their lives in a manner that each chooses alone

 A court must however also consider the impact that the relocation will have on the other parent who will be left behind. In looking at what is in the best interests of the child, a court should also look at whether relocation will be compatible with the child’s welfare. In F v F as sited above the court stressed the importance that it had to evaluate, weigh and balance a myriad of competing factors, including the child’s wishes in appropriate cases. In this matter the court rejected the mother’s application to relocate with her daughter despite finding that the decision to leave was bona fide. What the court found was that the practicalities of her decision to move were ill-researched and were outweighed by the child’s need not to be separated from either parent.

In the case of MK v RK case number 17189/08 in the South Gauteng High Court, the court followed a similar approach as in F v F. In this matter the child was living with the father. Here the court found that the father was thwarting attempts by the mother to rebuild her relationship with her daughter. The issues between the parties were acrimonious and the father alleged that the mother sexually abused the daughter years ago, based on these and various other factors, the court awarded custody to the father at the time the parties divorced and the child lived for several years with her father. The father then sought to relocate to Israel, although the mother initially gave her consent because she believed that she would be allowed contact with her child. She did however later withdraw her consent when she realised that this will never materialise. The court refused the relocation based on the fact that the father could not provide sufficient information when and where he would be employed, where the child would be going to school and how she would be assisted to learn Hebrew. The court also placed emphasis on the fact that it was important for the child to re-establish her relationship with her mother. What was also interesting in this case was that the court criticized the experts (psychologists) who recommended the relocation based on the fact that they did not considered all the facts and moreover that they did not considered all the evidence in making such far-reaching recommendations.

Another interesting case was that of HG v CG 2010 (3) SA 352 (ECP). This matter concerned four children whose parents were divorced. The eldest was then aged eleven and his siblings, a set of eight year old triplets, comprising two boys and a girl. In terms of the settlement agreement the parents were awarded joint custody. The intention being that the children would spend an equal amount of time with each parent and the children were spending alternate weeks with each parent.

Three years after the divorce the wife approached the High Court by way of an urgent application for variation of the custody order. In the application she sought an order declaring her the primary care provider of the children as well as the authority to permanently remove them from South Africa to Dubai to live with a new man whom she planned to marry.

Experts commissioned by the applicant, being a social worker and clinical psychologist, recommended that the applicant be the primary care provider and that she relocate with the children to Dubai as proposed. Experts not commissioned by her held a different view, finding that relocation would not be in the best interest of the children as they would miss their father, school friends and the city of Port Elizabeth to which they were accustomed. The mother’s application was dismissed and the court did not consent to the relocation as it found that it was not in the best interests of the children.

About the author:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law 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 father’s rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Divorce Ends Marriages…But Families Endure…


Divorce Ends Marriages…But Families Endure…

“Children need and deserve the love, care,
and support of both their parents”

Divorce is said to be one of the most traumatic experiences in the life of a person. Not only is it traumatic for the spouses but also for the children. In our current society it is not difficult see what the effects of divorce have on spouses, families and children. The ripple effect of a divorce rolls into the lives of most of the extended family members and close friends. As a family law attorney I see the effects of divorce every day. What parents should realise is that although the spousal relationship may end at divorce, the parental relationship will endure for a lifetime. The more acrimonious the break-up the more difficult will it be for the parents to parent their children in future. It is therefore of utmost importance that spousal conflict should bow for the sake of the best interests of the children, sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact, all that children want is to be happy. Unfortunately in many divorces it is the parents that act like children.
Here are some pointers for parents:

  1. Try to resolve your conflicts without putting your kids in the middle. Be objective about your children’s needs (do not confuse them with your own). Resolve a conflict sooner rather than later.
  2. Treat the other parent with respect, like you want to be treated. Set an example for your children. Our children imitate our behaviour. The disrespect that you show toward the other parent will be played out by the child in his own life. It’s extremely important for a child’s healthy development to have respect for authority figures, including both parents.
  3. Know your boundaries. When it comes to your children, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell yourself what they’ are doing while they are with the other parent, well it is actually none of your business, unless they will be physically or psychologically harmed, it probably is none of your business.
  4. Communicate regularly about the children with the other parent. There are lots to share. When children are still small, the other parent needs to know the basics when parenting responsibilities are being transferred. The worst-possible scenario is that a lack of communication may lead to a child not being picked up after school or day care, or important medical treatment being disrupted.
  5. Demonstrate positive conflict resolution to your children. You can use conflict as an opportunity to show your children how to resolve issues in a responsible manner.
  6. Do not allow all of the parenting tasks to fall on one parent. Things that are out of balance usually don’t work well. Don’t expect the other parent to be in charge of all of the communicating, extra purchases for your child or all of the discipline that needs to be done.
  7. Be a consistent parent – in disciplining, feeding and caring for your children. It really makes transitions from one household to the other easier, it minimizes the outbursts from children after visits at the other parent. Respect the other parent’s parenting approaches, and do recognize that while consistency is optimal, differences are okay. Children can distinguish that something that’s okay at Dad’s house may not be okay at Morn’s house.

The various ages and how children react to divorce:

Zero to One Year

Babies at this age begin to form attachments, so it is important to minimize changes and disruptions in their lives and show them love and affection. It’s important that they spend time with both parents so they can form attachments with both. Signs of distress can be excessive crying, problems with feeding or sleeping, and withdrawal.

One to Three Years

At this age children become more mobile and gaining communication skills. They are also able to recognize close adults, so they are sensitive to separation. These kids need consistency in routine and patience from their parents to safely explore their environment. Signs of distress are nightmares, mood changes, and changes in toileting.

Three to Five Years

Kids at this age believe they are the center of the universe, and so they feel responsible for the family split. Parents need to be positive during exchanges, keep a consistent schedule, and tell the kids that the divorce or split is not their fault. Signs of distress include toileting and sleep problems.

Five to Ten Years

Kids at this age are entering school and forming relationships outside the family. They may try to reunite parents and may feel and act out intense anger. Parents should develop a schedule that allows for consistency with school and extracurricular activities, and support their kids’ interests and friendships. Signs of distress at this age include expressions of anger, drop in school performance, sleep problems, and physical complaints.

Ten to Twelve Years

Pre-teens tend to see things in black and white terms, and so may align themselves with one parent. Parents should encourage these kids to love both parents and support their kids’ school and other activities. Signs of distress in pre-teens may include loss of interest in friends, becoming a perfectionist, depression, and isolation.

Early Adolescence (Thirteen to Fifteen Years)

Teens will often prefer to spend more time with friends than family, so allow room in the parenting plan for this. These teens need firm but fair guidelines and positive role models. They may also want to be included in creating the parenting plan. Signs of distress in this age group may include excessive anger or isolation, difficulty with school or peers, alcohol and drug use, and sexual acting out.

Late Adolescence (Sixteen to Eighteen Years)

Teens in this age group are learning to be independent to prepare for the separation from their parents, but they still need support and rules. These teens may also want to be included in creating the parenting plan. Watch for signs of distress, including reduction in school performance, difficulty with peers, alcohol and drug use, and sexual acting out. If parents aren’t able to talk, your teen can say, “I’m spending tonight at mom’s (dad’s) house,” and you won’t know if they’re really there.

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