Divorce and Child Abduction in South Africa
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.