Divorce Attorney Cape Town

Maintenance of Children After Divorce

Child Maintenance and Support

The Divorce Act in South Africa makes provision for the maintenance of dependent and minor children of divorcing husbands and wives. A court granting a decree of divorce can make any order which it considers appropriate in regard to the maintenance of a child of the marriage. This particular power of the court does not substitute or change a parent’s common law and statutory responsibility to maintain a child.

It does not follow that simply because there is a responsibility to maintain there should be an award against the non-custodian parent. In view of the absence of an enabling statutory provision in the Divorce Act or the Children’s Act, a parent of an adult child lacks the necessary locus standi in divorce proceedings to claim an order on behalf of such adult child, that the other parent pay certain allowances directly to the child or certain expenses on his or her behalf. Only if the children on their own have the standing to obtain such claim against the other parents. Nevertheless, in terms of section 7(2) of the Divorce Act, a court, when determining a spousal maintenance claim, need to take into account, amongst other factors, the parties’ respective financial needs and obligations, as well as their standard of living during the marriage.

Where the parties have separated and the adult child of the marriage has carried on to live with one parent who has had to use his or her household budget to run the family home and provide groceries for the household, such parent’s responsibility to provide the child with a home, with all that this entails, constitutes an ‘obligation’ within the meaning of section 7(2) of the Divorce Act which can be taken into account in determining the quantum of his or her interim maintenance claim.

If a parent has to pay maintenance for a child in terms of a court order, the fact that the child is visiting him temporarily does not entitle him to suspend or reduce the payment during that period, unless the order contains a specific provision to that effect.

In the assessment of maintenance for children their needs and the parents’ ability to pay are the primary factors but the criterion of the “best interests of the child” must also be considered.

The Maintenance Act provides that a court that convicts a person of an offence in terms of section 31(1) of the Maintenance Act, shall make an order directing any person, obliged under a contract to pay any money to the offender, to make such periodical payments from that money as may be required by the maintenance order. The use of the word “shall” showed that upon conviction a court is obliged to make the order provided that the contractual relationship exists, and the evidence shows that the order will not be impracticable. Such an order is enforceable against a state pension fund.

Compiled by Divorce and Family Law Attorney – Bertus Preller

To reade more on Family Law, Divorce and Separation read at: http://www.divorcelaws.co.za South Africa’s Premier Website on Family Law.

Liability of divorced or separated parents for fees at fee-paying public school.

The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (the Act) provides that a parent is liable to pay school fees at fee-paying public schools unless or to the extent that he or she has been exempted from payment.

One of the requirements for exemption from payment of fees is that the applicant must provide the ‘combined annual gross income of parents’.

In MS v Head of Department, Western Cape Education Department and Others 2017 (4) SA 465 (WCC); [2016] 4 All SA 578 (WCC) the applicant MS, a divorced mother of the learner at a fee-paying public school, was refused exemption by the school governing body (SGB) of the local school as her application was incomplete in that it did not include the financial position of her former husband that she had since divorced. He was very uncooperative and did not provide his financial position. The first respondent, the Head of the Department of Education in the Western Cape, rejected the applicant’s appeal against the decision of the SGB.

Contending that her liability to pay school fees was joint rather than joint and several, the applicant approached the court for an order reviewing and setting aside the first respondent’s decision regarding her appeal. In other words, her stance was that her application for exemption from payment of fees should be determined on the basis of her financial position alone concerning her share of liability for fees. That meant that for the balance the SGB would have to deal with her divorced husband separately.

Le Grange J granted with costs an order reviewing and setting aside the decision of the first respondent. The matter was remitted to the first respondent for determination of the exemption as the court itself was not a better place to do so. Moreover, doing so would encroach on the doctrine of separation of power between the judiciary and the executive.

It was held that on a proper construction of the provisions of s 40(1) of the Act, liability of a parent to pay school fees had to be regarded as joint and not joint and several. That was reference to the liability of the parent to the school in terms of s 40(1), not the liability for school fees between parents, which could be affected by private arrangement, as was the case in the present matter. Given that back in 2010 both parents undertook to remain involved in all aspects of the learner’s life, including her schooling and general welfare, the suggestion by the applicant that she was offended by the respondents to regard the divorced husband as part of her family and to insist that she requested financial information from him in order to complete the application forms for the school fees was unjustified. In fact, she accepted and agreed that she was under a legal obligation to forward correspondence relating to the learner to the divorced husband. Moreover, both parents accepted to remain co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights in terms of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

Therefore, the relief sought by the applicant for a declaration to the effect that by requesting her to also submit financial information of her divorced husband, the SGB infringed her right to human dignity by degrading and humiliating her, as alleged, was unsustainable and legally untenable.


The Marriage Rate Continues to Decline.


Will Valentine’s Day, always a popular moment for popping the question, see less marriage proposals this year than in past?

Information provided by Statistics South Africa in 2014 shows that the highest number of marriages was recorded in 2008 and the lowest number in 2012 which represents a decrease of more than 10% from those marriages recorded in 2008.

The age-old message about marriage that has been communicated by parents that “two are stronger than one” is now brushing up against a 21st-century reality: The number of married households in most countries including South Africa has fallen. Some researchers calls it “The Marriage Crisis”.  Today’s young adults in the US are on track to have the lowest rates of marriage by age 40 compared to any previous generation. If the current pace continues, more than 30% of millennial women will remain unmarried by age 40.

There are several reasons behind the declining marriage rate. The importance of marriage has been fading for years. More couples are living together without getting married, and some are raising families.

Also, marriage used to be the starting point for young adults. They got hitched early and built a life together. Now, many people feel they have to be more established, especially financially, before they walk down the aisle.

In 2013, the economist David H Author found that, “Sharp declines in the earning power of non-college males combined with the economic self-sufficiency of women rising educational attainment, falling gender gap and greater female control over fertility choices have reduced the economic value of marriage for women.”

Sweden has one of the lowest rates of marriage in the world and only 20% of the population bother to marry. In France and Britain it’s about a third. While marriage is in decline, unmarried cohabitation is on the rise.

U.Va. psychology professor Robert Emery says that, in the past, people thought of marriage as “more of a business-like relationship.” Women often received financial support from their husbands and women often provided household and child-rearing labour. Marriage rates fell and divorce rates rose when people started thinking less with their wallets and more with their hearts.

In the US the number of married households fell to 50.5% in 2012 from a high of about 72% in 1960. Among the less well educated, the number of married households has fallen even more. Research indicates that those who find themselves already lower on the socioeconomic ladder may be less likely to ever marry.

The United States has spent approximately one billion dollars since 2006 trying to educate low income Americans of the value of marriage with the goal of minimising divorce and single parent families. President Obama wrote in “The Audacity of Hope” that expanding such marriage education services to low income couples “should be something everybody can agree on.”

Researchers at UCLA however found that the poor not only value marriage just as much as those with more income, they actually have a better grip of the values needed to make a marriage work than wealthier people. Compared to the affluent, poor people “were more focused on the role of a good job, and an adequate income, and having some savings as the important factors in having a successful marriage,” the study’s lead author, social psychologist Benjamin Karney said.

Feminists have claimed that they, have the answer to Freud’s question about “What do women really want?” According to them, women’s utmost desire is to be equal to men and independent of them. Feminists created the myth that men and women are interchangeable and, except for donating sperm, women can be totally independent of men. However data in the US shows that by the time women reach their 30’s, about 70%of them are married and in marriage data we can certainly see the pull between a particular powerful set of values contesting with strong biological needs and the desire for equality struggle with the need for connection and relationship.

One should never underestimate marriage’s economic benefits. In a recent study in the US it was found that children being raised by married parents is generally connected to better economic wellbeing for young adults. So is being married as an adult and that growing up with both parents’ increases your odds of becoming highly educated, which in turn leads to higher odds of being married as an adult.

“Divorce causes a decrease in wealth that is larger than just splitting a couple’s assets in half,” said Jay Zagorsky, an Ohio State University economist. “If you really want to increase your wealth, get married and stay married.” “Marriage carries a sense of meaning, purpose, direction and stability that tends to benefit adults and particularly children. People who get married have an hope of sexual fidelity, and that fidelity tends to engender a sense of trust and security.

Latest marriage statistics in South Africa

Generally, the warmer months (beginning from September and peaking in December) are the most popular months for marriages. The results also show that marriages tends to peak in either March or April depending on the month of Easter holidays for that particular year. In 2012, the highest number of marriages took place in December. July recorded the lowest number of marriages. The results further indicate that, in 2012, the highest number of all marriages was registered in Gauteng (25,0%) and the lowest in Northern Cape (3,1%).

North West (76,1%) had the highest proportion of its marriages conducted by civil marriage officers whereas Western Cape recorded the highest proportion (44,2%) of marriages conducted by religious marriage officers.

A majority of the marriages in 2012 for both bridegrooms and brides were first-time marriages. For bridegrooms, there were (82,9%) bachelors, (3,3%) divorcees and (1,3%) widowers. For the brides, (87,4%) were spinsters whilst (2,2%) were divorcees and (1,0%) were widows. Provincial distribution shows that all provinces had the highest proportion of both bridegrooms and brides marrying for the first time, particularly brides in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo where 90,2% and 90,8% respectively were spinsters at the time of marriage

Irrespective of their marital status, men generally married women who had never been married (spinsters). Thus, (94,2%) spinsters, (1,0%) divorcees and (0,9%) widows were married by bachelors. In addition, irrespective of the fact that more divorcees and widowers married spinsters, the proportion of male divorcees who married female divorcees (16,2%) was higher than the proportion that married widows (1,2%). Similarly, the proportion of widowers who married widows (15,0%) was higher than the proportion that married female divorcees (1,5%).

The average ages of first-time brides remained at 29 years, while for bridegrooms the average age was 33 years. The average ages for divorcees for male were generally at 52 years. In comparison, the average age of female divorcees increased to 47 years. Despite the fact that men generally marry younger women, data in indicate that (14,8%) bridegrooms were younger than their brides whilst  (7,6%) were of the same age as their brides.

Maurice Phillips Wisenberg
20th Floor, 2 Long Street, Cape Town, 8000
Telephone: Cape Town Office: +27 21 419 7115
E-mail:  familylaw(@)mpw.co.za
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys
Twitter: @bertuspreller

Book review on Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation

Deur Jaco Barnard-Naudé is professor in regsfilosofie aan die Universiteit van Kaapstad.


Ons leef vandag in ‘n wêreld van toenemende vloeibaarheid en pluraliteit op die vlak van persoonlike verhoudings. Die een dag besluit jy en jou beste vriend nog om lewenskoste te beperk deur ‘n woonstel te deel en die volgende dag word die platoniese vriendskap iets meer en julle woon voortaan saam as man en vrou. Of man en man. ‘n Paar jaar later besluit julle om te trou. As julle ‘n eendersgeslagtelike verhouding bedryf, moet julle deur die hekke van die Wet op Burgerlike Verbintenisse, 2006, toegang verkry tot die twyfelagtige groener gras van die huwelik. Heteroseksuele saamwoners het ‘n addisionele (en meer konvensionele) wet beskikbaar waarvolgens hulle in die huwelik kan tree – die Huwelikswet van die Jaar van Onse Heer 1961. As julle byvoorbeeld in Tamboerskloof saamwoon en besluit die huwelik is nie wat julle en ander eende van julle dam wil hê nie, hoef julle nie te trou om die verbintenis regtens erken te kry nie: die 2006-Wet maak voorsiening vir ‘n burgerlike vennootskap wat presies dieselfde gevolge as ‘n huwelik het.

Ek het al hierdie dinge geweet voordat ek hierdie uiters leesbare en akkurate boek onder die oë gehad het, omdat ek vir ‘n regsfakulteit werk en self betrokke was by die totstandkoming van die 2006-Wet. Vir diegene wat tans in ‘n saamwonery van een of ander aard verkeer, dit oorweeg om een of ander Groot Stap (insluitend skeiding van tafel en bed) te doen en nié in die regsberoep werk of betroubare vriende daarin (skaars spesie) het nie, kan ekEveryone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation aanbeveel.

Die titel is ondeurdag. Hoewel die regstema van geregtelike skeiding prominent daarin bespreek word, soos die titel aandui, handel groot gedeeltes daarvan oor die regsgevolge van die totstandkoming van ‘n huwelik of ander permanente saamwoonverhouding. Selfs die gevolge van die totstandkoming van die ouwêreldse “verlowing” (en wat die lô sê oor die verloofring wanneer jy dit in sy gesig terugsmyt) word met erns bespreek. En as lobola deel was van jou huweliksonderhandelinge en jy is getroud ingevolge die Wet op Erkenning van Gewoonteregtelike Huwelike, sal jy interessante dinge lees oor hoe om te verhoed dat jou man se aanhoudende trouery jou nie finansieel benadeel nie.

‘n Groot gedeelte van die boek handel oor die onwillekeurige partye tot ‘n saamwoonverhouding: die kinders. Daar is ‘n omvattende bespreking van wat die verantwoordelikhede teenoor kinders in ‘n gesin is – veral wanneer die ouers se saamwoonverhouding tot ‘n einde kom en ook in gevalle waar Ma en Pa eens saamgewoon, of ten minste saam verkeer, het, maar by geboorte van die kind reeds aanbeweeg het. Die boek stel dit in hierdie konteks direk en duidelik: die kind(ers) sit met die gebakte pere van julle mislukte verhouding sonder dat hulle daarvoor gevra het. Die allerminste wat julle kan doen, is alles in julle vermoë ten einde te verseker dat hulle so onbeskadig as moontlik uit die puin van julle verhouding tree.

Bostaande is maar een rede waarom die skrywer (‘n prokureur) daarvoor pleit dat egskeidings nie in litigasie behoort te eindig nie. Daar is merendeels slegs verloorders in ‘n bestrede egskeiding, en té dikwels, waar kinders betrokke is, is dit húlle wat as pionne in die vuilspel gebruik word en die meeste verloor.

Benewens ‘n omvattende verduideliking van die egskeidingsproses bevat die boek ook heelwat praktiese wenke vir mense wat deur so ‘n proses moet gaan (waartydens gesinsgeweld nie uitgesluit word nie, daarom die hoofstuk oor laasgenoemde). Dit het my lank geneem om die bul by die horings te pak en hierdie boek te lees, want egskeiding is nooit ‘n aangename onderwerp om oor te dink of te lees nie – ons dink veel eerder aan die feeste van die huweliksdag. Maar as jy jou in ‘n skeidingsituasie bevind (en nie in die regsberoep werk of daarin bevriend is nie), moet jy jou, soos vir enige stryd, hoe gemoedelik ook al, bewapen. En Preller se boek is ‘n sterk wapen. Kry dit.

divorce and separation



Original article at: http://www.litnet.co.za/Article/2013-everyones-guide-to-divorce-and-separation-bertus-preller

Victory for Unmarried Parents in High Court Ruling over Interim Maintenance

child support

A ruling by the Eastern Cape High Court granting unmarried parents who have been in “a life partnership” equal rights to married parents was an “important victory” in child maintenance cases.

The Applicant (mother) approached the Eastern Cape High Court in East London by way of urgency for an order, inter alia, that the Family Advocate institute an enquiry and furnish a report regarding the parental rights and responsibilities of the mother and father and that pending such a report the mother remained the primary carer of the child. Pending the report by the Family Advocate the father was entitled to reasonable contact with the child at all reasonable times every alternate weekend from a Saturday morning at 09h00 until 17h00 and from 09h00 until 17h00 on the Sunday, reasonable telephonic contact, special occasions such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc.

The interesting part of the application was the fact that the mother also asked the court for an order that the father contribute to the child’s maintenance, by the payment of the sum of R3 300.00 per month pending finalisation of the investigation by the Family Advocate into the parental issues and/or until the court made a proper maintenance order.

Facts of the case

The Applicant was the mother of a minor child of approximately 3 years old and the father of the child was the Respondent in the case.  At the time of the child’s birth the child’s parents were in a permanent life-partnership relationship (not married) and thus acquired full and equal parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child.

The parties separated and the mother brought an application in the High Court,  the purpose of the application was to confirm and to grant certain rights to both parents so that in the best interest of their minor child, there was certainty in respect of his primary care contact with the child by both parents as well as maintenance to support his basic needs.

In her papers the mother averred that the minor child and she had been subjected to harm at the instance of the father who has threatened to remove the minor child from the care of the applicant.  The parties were no longer staying together and the child was living in the mother’s care.

The court granted leave to the mother to move the court application as a matter of urgency only on the basis that the father wanted to remove the child from her care. The Respondent’s counsel argued that is that the matter was not urgent and therefore the Court could deal with the mother’s maintenance claim in the High Court.

The court emphasized the fact that the High Court has always been regarded as the upper guardian of all minors in all matters concerning children.  Section 28(1) of the Constitution provides, inter alia, that every child has the right to family care or parental care when removed from the family environment.  To basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services.  To be protected from maltreatment neglect, abuse or degradation.  It is also important to mention that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

It is a common practice for some practitioners who appear in the High Court to apply for the dismissal of an application on the only ground that it is not urgent.  In this matter the court found that the application was urgent due to the threat that the father made to remove the child.

A co-holder of parental responsibilities has the right to apply to the High Court, divorce Court or to the Children’s Court for an order suspending for a period or terminating any or all the parental responsibilities and rights which a specific person has in respect of a child.  Or extending or circumscribing the exercise by that person of the parental responsibilities and rights that person has in respect of a child.  Such application may be combined with an application in terms of section 23 of the Children’s Act for the assignment of contact and care in respect of the child to the applicant in terms of that section.  In other words the parental rights and responsibilities as well as guardianship of a minor child can be brought before the High Court.

The parties in this application lived in a permanent life partnership as though they were a married couple.  In the event that they had been married, which they were not, they would have been able to make use of Rule 43 proceedings, a mechanism, inter alia, for speedy and effective resolution of maintenance for minor children pending finalisation of the divorce.  In this case there was no pending matrimonial action and therefore, in the court’s view, the facts of the case were distinguishable from a situation where the provisions of Rule 43 find application.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid the court found that there was nothing preventing the Court from dealing with a maintenance issue even if it is a provisional order of maintenance pending the finalization of the maintenance court enquiry.  The court’s view was that in all maintenance matters involving children the court should endeavour to see to it that they are dealt with as expeditious as is practically possible and found that it was not be in the best interests of a child if the maintenance issue had to be referred back to the maintenance court especially when there was already an indication that it will only be dealt with sometime in a few months because of the busy court roll at the maintenance court.

It is therefore possible for an unmarried mother to obtain urgent interim relief for maintenance of a child pending an investigation by  the Family Advocate’s Office into the care and contact issues of a child.

Media interview with Divorce Law and Family Law Specialist Bertus Preller

Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller
Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller

Bertus Preller, was recently interviewed in connection with his book “Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation” published by Random House Struik (Zebra Press – 2013). So that you can get to know Bertus better, we have included excerpts from that interview.

How long have you been involved in law?

I was admitted as an attorney in 1989 and have almost 25 years’ experience of the law.

What are some examples of the types of cases that you handle?

I represent people in divorce, both in local and international divorce cases, care and contact (custody) disputes, access (visitation) / parental disputes, parenting plans, unmarried father’s rights, paternity cases, grandparents’ rights,  step-parent and non-parent care and contact cases, international child abduction (Hague Convention) cases, relocation disputes, division of property, spousal maintenance and child maintenance matters, domestic violence and protection orders, child abuse cases, enforcement actions (where a person is seeking to enforce a court order), same-sex cases, cohabitation agreements, antenuptial agreements,  family law mediation and collaborative divorce law,  and other family law related matters. It also includes Mediation. In addition to being a litigator, I have also acted as a Mediator for many years.

Did you always want to be an attorney?

Ever since I can remember, I have always loved the idea of fighting for people who need help and helping the underdog. It was my goal, since being at high school in Grey College, to become an attorney.

How stressful is your work?

Being a family law attorney can be stressful. Our entire legal system is based on adversity and on two sides negotiating, or fighting in court, to achieve a resolution to their disputes. These negotiations, court appearances, and dealing with clients, judges and other attorneys are not exactly pleasant all the time. These relations require one to be tough, emotionally detached and sometimes even heartless. It is not fun, not glamorous and sometimes it does get ugly. The stress has a lot to do with the fact that almost everything you do is urgent and can have serious financial implications  if you mess up in court, there are going to be major implications for your client. Having said this, I love to make a difference in people’s lives, especially where children are involved.

How do you spend your day/week?

My job duties include appearing in court on behalf of clients, drafting legal documents, communicating by letter and email, conducting consultations, performing legal research, reviewing financial documents, interviewing clients, talking to attorneys, and working with psychologists, and other experts. My day is varied, with no two days being exactly alike. The largest percentage of my work-week consists of writing letters and emails, talking on the telephone, reviewing emails and correspondence, consulting with clients, drafting pleadings, reviewing financial records, and preparing for court hearings – not the kind of stuff you see on TV shows or in the movies.

Do you have celebrity clients?

Due to the nature of my work I am not able to disclose the identities of my clients, but yes, I have clients who appeared on Survivor Africa, Master Chef South Africa, actors, actresses, politicians, television personalities and some high net worth individuals.

 Do you have a “profile” of the ideal family law attorney?

In my opinion, there is no such thing as an “ideal” family law attorney. Each person has his/her own unique strengths. In appointing an attorney, I would look for someone with honesty and integrity, someone with a good work ethic, who is persuasive and communicates well, both verbally and in writing, someone who is empathetic, with excellent people-skills and a passion for helping others and practicing family law.

What is your approach to handling cases?

I believe that it is the duty of an attorney to work with his/her client as part of a team approach. Too many attorneys have a “give me the ball and I’ll run with it” philosophy, and they fail to communicate with the client during the course of the case. I take a completely different approach. After all, it is the client’s case. My job, is to communicate with my client, help determine the proper objectives, formulate a game-plan, and work hard to make sure that the client’s needs are effectively met. I understand that my client is going through what is probably the most difficult and stressful time in her/his life and need someone who will look for logical, peaceful solutions but will also be willing to aggressively fight for his/her rights if that becomes at all necessary.

Does dealing with other people’s failed relationships make you feel cynical about love at all?

I believe in marriage. It would be naive to think that dealing with divorce and separation (and all the trauma and distress that goes with it) on a daily basis, will not make one sceptical about marriage to a certain extent. I think the problem does not lie in the institution of marriage or that relationships that end in divorce were never meant to be. It is my view that the reason for many problems that we experience in relationships stems from the fact that people are fickle and that our circumstances and life experiences change and shape us every day. A healthy relationship is an evolving relationship and each partner should learn and grow through the relationship, and often through the conflicts. Marriage can be described as a series of peaks and troughs and as long as the peaks outweigh the troughs then you will be okay.

What have bad divorces taught you about what goes into a happy marriage?

There is not one universal key that unlocks the door to a happy and healthy marriage or relationship. There is a saying that a relationship is not a place where you go to take, it is a place where you go to give. Marriage for many of us will undoubtedly be the biggest financial and personal transaction of your entire life. You need to look at your partner and realize that you are not going to change him or her. Ask yourself this: “Does my partner have the basic qualities that matter to me, characteristics that are not going to change over time?” Remember that it is not all about the wedding cake, the wedding ceremony, the wedding gifts or the wedding dress. It takes a lot of work and effort to make it work. Lack of communication tops the list of the reasons for divorce. There is the cliché that women want men to know what they want and what they are thinking without ever having to tell them, but the reality is that couples need to talk and express their feelings and fears to their spouse. It is when spouses only start thinking about their own wants and needs and no longer function as a “team”, that things start to fall apart. Unfortunately in many instances our ability to learn about relationships shuts down at the point when the marriage begins to get tough and just because couples develop disagreements, I am sure that many marriages could have been saved if the couples persevered just a little more. Conflict should be seen as an inevitable part of relationships. One of the secrets to a good marriage is to find your equal partner, not a partner who is going to dominate or control you or who you can dominate or control. Any relationship  for it to work must be based on mutual respect, common purpose and of course trust. When a couple start to lose one of those ingredients, the wheels come off.

Is it possible to recover after a divorce?

Most individuals blame their ex-spouses. I think that if you can step back and say, “This is what I have done wrong and this is what I will change”, you have something powerful to teach others who go through the same issues. In many divorces, the problems that caused the divorce have existed in the relationship long before the marriage and were either not acknowledged or were ignored in the hope that marriage might heal the problems. But that is not what happens in life. Nobody can make you feel better about yourself. Someone wise once said that it takes two wholes to make a marriage, not two halves.

To find out more about Bertus Preller, visit his webpage at http://www.divorceattorney.co.za or follow him on Twitter @bertuspreller or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys.

Child participation – can a child choose where he or she would like to live after divorce?

Child participation

Children’s rights are often divided into prevention, protection and participation rights. The right to be heard or the right to express views are some of the manifestations of the participation rights of children.

The right of children to participate or express their views in all matters that affect them as well as their right to be heard in official proceedings are found in various international instruments.

Examples include: ICCPR, Hague Convention on International Child Abduction (art 13), United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules – 14.4)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCR)

South Africa ratified the UNCR in 1995 and is therefore bound by its provisions. Article 12 of the UNCR is the most important right guaranteeing children’s participation in all matters that affect them.

Article 12 provides that:

“(1) State Parties shall assure to a child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the view of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

(2) For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law”

Article 12 (2) is focused on child’s right to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting him/her either directly or through a representative. This applies to proceedings when child is the main actor (ie cases of abuse and residency has to be determined) or when child in secondary position (i.e conflict situation related to divorce of parents.

Other specific rights include the right to participate in proceedings concerning a child’s legal removal or separation from his or her parents (article 9(2)) and right to participate in juvenile justice proceedings (article 37(d) and 40(2)(b)). The inclusion of these provisions changed the position conferred to children in the past where seen as objects not worthy of expressing a meaningful opinion and their views were not taken into account.

The rights in art 12 only extends to those children capable of forming their own views (so it appears to exclude very young children) – but it does not limit participation rights to children of a specific fixed age. It rather adopts a flexible approach in that the right is extended to children that are capable of forming their own views and it recognises that a child’s capacity to form his/her own views varies according to a child’s individual development and capacity to comprehend the events affecting him/ her and is not necessarily dependent on any age.

The views of the child is to be given due weight according to age and maturity of the child in question and once it is determined that child has the capacity to form an opinion, the next step is then to determine the weight to be attached to that opinion.

The opinion is to be examined according to the child’s age (an objective test) and the child’s degree of maturity (a subjective test). The child’s opinion is to be given “due weight” according to nature of problem and degree of interest it represents to child and others (ie parents, siblings, etc). The more serious and imminent the consequences of the decision are on the child, the more the child’s opinion deserves to be an important consideration.

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Section 4(2) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child reads:

“In all judicial or administrative proceedings affecting a child who is capable of communicating his/her own views, an opportunity shall be provided for the views of the child to be heard either directly or through an impartial representative as a party to the proceedings and those views shall be taken into consideration by the relevant authority in accordance with the provisions of appropriate law.”

The South African Children’s Act

The Children’s Act mentions child participation as a guiding/general principle in the application or implementation of the Act but sets no particular age as to when a child can decide on his/her own, where he/she want to live.

Section 10 of the Children’s Act reads:

“Every child that is of such an age, maturity and stage of development as to be able to participate in any matter concerning that child, has the right to participate in an appropriate way and the views expressed by the child must be given due consideration.”

Section 10 is not limited only to legal proceedings and hence the principle of child participation echoes throughout the Act it provides for the child to participate in any matter concerning the child, provided that the child is of such an age, maturity and stage of development as to be able to participate.

The principle inter alia extends to children in child-headed households, participating in lay forums, decisions taken by holders of parental rights (ie those that would change or affect child’s living conditions, etc), adoption proceedings, consenting to medical treatment, surgical operations and HIV testing; etc

The right to participate should however not place a burden of choice on the child, especially in care and contact situations where a child might feel caught up between loyalties to one or the other parent or caregiver. Substantial care and skill is required to create opportunities for children to express themselves without them feeling pressurised to choose between either their mother or their father, or between a foster parent and a biological parent.

The right to participate does not mean the child has the right to demand a particular outcome or course of action. The decision-maker still has power to decide what is in child’s best interests even if it is not what the child wishes provided the decision-maker has afforded the child an opportunity to participate and given due consideration to the child’s views.

The right of the child to participate is qualified – limited to children of such an age, maturity and stage of development as to be able to participate. Maturity refers to the ability to understand and assess the implications of a particular matter, and must therefore be considered when determining the individual capacity of a child.

Maturity is difficult to define; in the context of section 10, it is the capacity of the child to express her/ his views on issues in a reasonable and independent manner. The impact of the matter on the child must also be taken into consideration. The greater the impact of the outcome on the life of the child, the more relevant the appropriate assessment of the maturity of the child

Once it is established that child is able to participate – then inquiry shifts to what weight should be given to the view expressed. The more serious the consequences of the decision are, the more the child’s opinion needs to be considered having regard to the nature of the problem and degree of interests it represents to the child.

The question when is a child of an age, maturity and stage of development to participate is no quick and easy answer. Each case is dependent on circumstances and personal competencies of the child; the latter is usually a question of fact. Factors to consider are cognitive ability, biological and mental age, level of maturity in comparison to peers, ability to understand and answer questions and comprehend, school grade appropriate to age, etc.

The importance of recognising the child’s right to participate is further highlighted in section 31 of the Children’s Act, which deals with major decisions involving children by a person holding parental rights and responsibilities, normally the parents. It provides explicitly that, as far as decisions which might constitute a significant change in the education of the child are concerned, or which have an adverse effect on the child or the general well-being of the child, due consideration must be given to any views and wishes expressed by the child, bearing in mind the child’s age, maturity and stage of development.

Section 31(1)(a) of the Children’s Act reads:

“Before a person holding parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child takes any decision contemplated in paragraph (b) involving the child, that person must give due consideration to any views and wishes expressed by the child, bearing in mind the child’s age, maturity and stage of development.”

South African Case Law

H G v C G 2010 (3) SA 352 (ECP)

In this case the applicant (mother) sought an order declaring her primary carer and an order entitling her to relocate with her three children to Dubai. The children were between the ages of 11 and 13. The court recognised the children’s right to be heard in sections 10 and 31 of Children’s Act. The applicant’s experts (psychologists) approached the matter on the basis that children should be relieved of the responsibility of themselves deciding with which parent to live. The Court determined the matter on the basis that the voice of the child should be heard and the relocation was found not to be in their best interest, accordingly the application was dismissed.

GCH v GNB [2012] ZAGPPHC 218

The applicant (mother) and the respondent were previously married but divorced in 2010. Two sons were born of the marriage, who at the time of the application was 13 and 11 years old. In terms of the settlement agreement concluded between the parties when they divorced, both parties retained their parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the care of the children. The primary residence of the children was awarded to the applicant. The respondent’s rights of contact with the boys were spelt out in the agreement. The applicant was the primary caregiver of the children since the respondent left the common home during May 2008. The applicant applied for an order granting consent for the two boys to relocate with her to Australia. The respondent opposed the application. He also filed a counter-application for an order that, in the event that the applicant leaves South Africa without the two minor children, clauses 2 and 3 of the settlement agreement in the divorce action, which deal with the parties’ rights and responsibilities in respect of the children and with the maintenance which the respondent had to pay for the children, be deleted, alternatively that, in the event that the court granted an order authorising the applicant to remove the children to Australia, that certain specified contact rights with the children be granted to him. A factor which weighed heavily with the court were the views of the children themselves as expressed to the psychologist, the Judge, the family advocate and the family counsellor that they have decided that they want to go to Australia with their mother. In view of the good relationship which they had with the respondent, the decision was undoubtedly very difficult and one which caused them much anguish. The court allowed the mother to remove the children and found that the children’s decision must carry weight and must be respected because of their age, maturity and stage of development.

BROSSY V BROSSY (602/2011) [2012] ZASCA 151

In this case the court took note of international and regional instruments to which South Africa was a party, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), both of which entrench children’s rights to express their views in all matters affecting them and their right to be heard in all judicial and administrative proceedings affecting them.

LEGAL AID BOARD V R 2009 (2) SA 262 (D)

In this matter the court found that when one is dealing with acrimonious litigation concerning the fundamentally important questions of where a child shall live and who shall be responsible for his/her principal day-to-day care and the central decisions concerning their lives, such as schooling, health, religion and the like, and where the voice of the child has been drowned out by the warring voices of her/ his parents, a substantial injustice to the child will result if he/ she was not afforded the assistance of a legal practitioner to make his/ her voice heard.


There is a real risk of unduly diluting the child’s right to be heard to one of merely listening to children without affording them a real opportunity to voice their own opinions and to take part in decisions in an age- and developmentally-appropriate way.

Children should not only be listened to, but should also be supported in expressing their views – and these views should be taken into account in decision making. By considering the views of children build their self-esteem, create a sense of belonging, increase empathy and responsibility, and lay a proper foundation for citizenship and democratic participation.

About the author

Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Attorney and Mediator at Bertus Preller & Associates Inc. in Cape Town and has more than 25 years experience. Bertus is the author of Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation, published by Random House.

Maurice Phillips Wisenberg
20th Floor, 2 Long Street, Cape Town, 8000
Telephone: Cape Town Office: +27 21 419 7115
E-mail:  familylaw(@)mpw.co.za
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys
Twitter: @bertuspreller

Divorce Attorney Bertus Preller Consults in Johannesburg

Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller
Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller

Bertus Preller  a Family, Divorce Law Attorney, Mediator at Maurice Phillips Wisenberg in Cape Town, is now consulting on a weekly basis in Sandton Johannesburg. He has nearly 25 years of experience as an attorney and specializes in Family Law and Divorce Law cases across South Africa. Bertus is the author of Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation, published by Random House. He has also been quoted on Family Law issues in various newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times and magazines such as Noseweek, Keur, Living and Loving, Longevity, Woman and Home, Women’s Health, You, Huisgenoot and Fairlady and also appeared on the SABC television show, 3 Talk, Morning Live and on the 5FM Breakfast show with Gareth Cliff. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high net worth individuals.

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, child abduction and Hague Convention cases and domestic violence matters and international divorce law. He will consult in Sandton every Wednesday.

To contact Bertus for an appointment:

Maurice Phillips Wisenberg
20th Floor, 2 Long Street, Cape Town, 8000
Telephone: Cape Town Office: +27 21 419 7115
E-mail:  familylaw(@)mpw.co.za
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys
Twitter: @bertuspreller

Divorce Mediation – a better option

divorce mediation

Frustrated in seeing how families are being torn apart, and their finances depleted by the expensive and adversarial divorce litigation process, Maurice Phillips Wisenberg, attorneys in Cape Town recently launched Family Law Mediation Specialists (FMS) as an extension to the firm’s Family Law Department to eliminate the expense, time, and adversarial nature of divorce with a new website: http://www.familylawmediators.co.za.

The purpose of FMS is to afford couples an innovative, low-stress, low-cost and speedy solution through Mediation. Divorce Mediation puts control of the divorce process in the couple’s hands rather than engaging in an expensive court process thereby enabling the couple to outline the terms of their divorce and so they save time, money and stress.

“I have been working in a number of cases with client’s whose divorces should have been uncomplicated and relatively simple,” Bertus Preller Family Law Attorney at Maurice Phillips Wisenberg, said. “Unfortunately, because traditional divorce litigation is an adversarial process in nature, it tends to stage one divorce attorney against the other in a win – lose  situation for a fight to the finish which just drives up the expense, the time involved and causes a great deal of emotional stress and pain within the family unit.”

Divorce litigation is often very destructive especially where there are children involved and in many cases, particularly if the parties have children, the divorcing spouses will be in each other’s lives for a long time to come. For this reason it is better for them, as well as their children to keep the lines of communication open between them, Mediation, enables this.

Contested divorce (where the parties are not able to agree on the terms of the divorce) requires both spouses to hire separate attorneys, who then “contest” against each other to gain as much for they can for their client at the expense of the other. The lawyer’s objective is to “win” at all costs. Tin many instances the attorneys have absolutely no motivation whatsoever to be concerned with their opponent’s well-being or how the family will communicate when the dust clears and the attorneys’ bills have been paid. This process is adversarial in nature and does not encourage open communication between spouses which can be devastating for their children.

Divorce Mediation is a very different approach to ending your marriage than the common approach of Divorce Litigation. Divorce Mediation is a cooperative process that enables the spouses to work together and resolve the practical matters involved in their separation.

The cost of these comprehensive mediation services are usually a small part of the cost of other forms of divorce, particularly litigation.

Compiled by:

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Twitter: @bertuspreller

Web: http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: