Divorce Attorney Cape Town

The Marriage Rate Continues to Decline.


Living-Together

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.

Source: http://voices.news24.com/bertus-preller/2015/02/marriage-rate-decline/

Bertus Preller

Divorce and Family Law Lawyer

Bertus Preller & Associates Inc., Cape Town

Website: http://www.divorcelaws.co.za and http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

Twitter: @bertuspreller

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys

Tel: 021 422 2461

Be careful, living together may cost you half of your assets when you breakup.


Recent case law in South Africa has far reaching consequences for unmarried couples who live together. In one case the court concluded that an unmarried woman who devoted all her time, effort and energy in promoting the interests of both parties by maintaining their common home in raising their children was entitled to 30 % of her partner’s net asset value at the date their relationship ended. In another case an award of more than R 6 million was granted to an unmarried woman who actively helped her partner in building his estate.

In the recent case of Cloete versus Maritz case number 6222/2010 and 16433/2012, in the Western Cape High court a judge has made a farmer (Mr Maritz) pay more than R 6 million for leaving his fiancée (Miss Cloete) of 10 years after he downplayed the role she played in building up his businesses and suggested she had illegally occupied his house in Cape Town.

After 10 years together, the court heard, how the man deserted his fiancée in March 2009, and by December that same year he married somebody else. Judge Robert Henney of the Cape Town High Court ordered the man to compensate his fiancée just over R6 million within 30 days, failing which his house could be attached.

The facts of the case were briefly as follows:

Having been in a relationship with each other, the parties on or about 10 March 1998 agreed to marry each other within a reasonable time after such date. As a result of this, the parties became engaged to one another during February 1999. Cloete alleged that on 24 April and 7 May 2009 Maritz repudiated the agreement by refusing to marry her. It was alleged that he did so by informing her that he did not want to see her again and that he had somebody new in his life. She alleged that the rejection was wrongful an unlawful and she issued summons against him whereby she claimed a 50% share of the value of the assets of Maritz based on a universal partnership, repayment of the sum of R 26,000 which was donated by her to Maritz and R 25,000 for damages for breach of promise to marry her. Throughout their relationship, Maritz and Cloete started various business ventures, both in South Africa and also in Namibia. According to Cloete, she invested considerable time in the businesses, including a farm in Namibia, since Maritz had a permanent job.

In 2001, they also bought a house in Cape Town as an investment, and they discussed changing it into a guest-house with the goal of ultimately retiring there. The house was registered in Maritz’s name. In March 2009 Maritz broke the news that he had someone new in his life, Cloete then moved into the house in Cape Town since according to her, she had nowhere else to go. Cloete testified that she later wrote a letter in which she told Maritz she had nothing to her name, even though she had worked hard to build up their businesses. Maritz filed a counter-claim that Cloete was unlawfully occupying the property and requested the court to evict her and also that she be ordered to pay damages to him equal to reasonable market related monthly rental of R 20,000 for 21 months unlawful occupation. Maritz disputed that there was a legally enforceable engagement, or that a universal partnership existed. He maintained that the decision to end the relationship was mutual. He also argued that he and Cloete signed an antenuptial contract prior to their intended marriage, and said this was an indication that they never intended to form a universal partnership.

The court’s finding

Judge Henney said in his judgement that Cloete came across as an honest and genuine person, who did not contribute to and assist Maritz purely to gain financially, but because of her deep love, affection, admiration and loyalty she had for him. It was clear it was never her intention, when she entered into the relationship with Maritz, to gain financially from it. The impression created was that she was the submissive and the caring partner who at all times acted in (his) best interests,” the judge said. Maritz, on the other hand, tried to downplay Cloete’s involvement, and diminish her contribution to that of an ordinary worker.

The Judge felt that Cloete’s role in the partnership was not limited to that of a housewife who tended to the maintenance of the home. He found that Cloete assisted Maritz in executing the commercial undertaking of the partnership. This contribution she made was in addition to the indispensable contribution she made to the businesses where she contributed her skills, energy, time, capital and income to promote the interests of the universal partnership. The judge found further that she contributed her admin skills and know-how for the promotion of the businesses she further contributed to the financial growth of the businesses and as a result of this, they acquired a number of assets during the relationship. Given the relationship they were involved in and businesses, the only conclusion that the court could come to was that a universal partnership came into existence.

Judge Henney said in light of the relationship and Cloete’s “inextricable” involvement in the businesses, the only conclusion was that a universal partnership had existed. He ordered Maritz to pay Cloete R 6.166 million, which constitutes a 50 % share in the universal partnership, as well as R 25 000 for breach of promise. Maritz was also ordered to pay costs.

Judge Henney mainly relied on the case of Butters v Mncora (181/11) [2012] ZASCA 29, discussed below.

The Law

A question that needs to be considered is whether there was a universal partnership that existed between the parties. The legal principles applicable to a universal partnership was summarised by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Butters v Mncora (181/11) [2012] ZASCA 29. The Appellate Division held that while cohabitation does not give rise to special legal consequences, a cohabitee can invoke remedies in private law which in this case was based on the law of partnership.

In this case, the parties were involved in a 19 year relationship, most, but not all, of which was spent living together. They had been engaged for nearly 10 years, but never married. During the course of the relationship, Butters had accumulated a sizeable estate from his business interests, which included a security company. Mncora had initially worked briefly as a secretary but, at the persistence of Butters, had stopped working to stay at home and care for the couple’s children and Butters’ child from another relationship. Butters had provided for all the financial needs of the family. The relationship terminated abruptly and a dispute soon ensued as to whether Mncora was entitled to any of Butters’ assets, even though she had never been married to Butters.

In the trial court, the plaintiff accepted that she had had virtually nothing to do with the defendant’s business and, in fact, had never entered the business premises. She conceded that her contribution to the partnership was limited to caring for the family and running the family home. The legal premise for the majority’s judgement started by recording that “the general rule of our law is that cohabitation does not give rise to special legal consequences”. However, the cohabitee has a remedy derived from the law of partnership and has the onus of establishing the partnership essentials. The path breaking aspect of the judgement is the finding that the partnership enterprise need not be confined to a commercial undertaking and that therefore “once it is accepted that the partnership enterprise may extend beyond commercial undertakings, logic dictates, in my view that the contribution of both parties need not be confined to a profit-making entity… It can be accepted that the plaintiff’s contribution to the commercial undertaking contacted by the defendant was insignificant. Yet, she spent all her time, effort and energy in promoting the interests of both parties in the communal enterprise by maintaining their common home in raising their children. On the premise that the partnership enterprise between them could notionally include both the commercial undertaking and the non-profit making part of their family life, for which the plaintiff took responsibility, her contribution to that notional partnership enterprise can hardly be denied”.

In light of the Butters case it appears that if a cohabitees evidence is accepted that “everything was for both of us… we were sharing everything”, this may well be sufficient to prove a universal partnership, even in circumstances where the plaintiff’s contribution were limited to running the joint household and raising the children.

The appeal court considered the essential elements of partnerships. Firstly, each of the parties must contribute something into the partnership or bind themselves to bring something into the partnership, whether it be money or labour or skill. The second element is that the partnership business should be carried on for the joint benefit of both parties. The third is that the object should be to make a profit.

There are two kinds of universal partnerships; firstly, ones where the parties agreed to put in common all their property present and future; and secondly, those where parties agreed that all they may acquire during the existence of the partnership from every kind of commercial undertaking, will be partnership property. A universal partnership does not require an express agreement. Like any other contract it can come into existence by tacit (unspoken) agreement, that is by an agreement derived from the conduct of the parties. Where the conduct of the parties is capable of more than one interpretation, the test for when a tacit universal partnership can be held to exist is whether it is more probable than not that a tacit agreement had been reached.

The Trends

It is clear that the Butters case broadened the application of a universal partnership, certainly in the case of cohabitees. This has very important practical consequences given the rising trend of people living in domestic partnerships in South Africa. In America for example, 40% of all couples living together are unmarried. In Sweden, 9/10 couples marrying for the first time already lived together and in Denmark, more than one third of women in the early 20’s are living in extra marital intimate relationships. A report recently published in the UK using the latest data from the Office for National Statistics revealed a generational shift away from the institution of marriage, with youths far less likely ever to wed than their parents and grandparents. The research by the Marriage Foundation showed that, for a variety of reasons, 47% of women and 48% of men aged 20 will never marry. In South Africa an increasing number of couples are cohabiting and delaying their walk down the aisle.

 

Given the latest developments in the law of universal partnerships, couples who do not wish to be married would be well advised to consider entering into a written cohabitation agreement to regulate their cohabitation relationship, otherwise separation may just have devastating consequences.

Compiled by Bertus Preller

Family Law and Divorce Attorney and author of Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation – Random House.

Twitter: bertuspreller

Websites: http://www.divorcelaws.co.za

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys

Source:http://voices.news24.com/bertus-preller/2014/07/careful-cohabitation-may-cost-half-assets-breakup/ 

 

Book review on Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation


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

Book

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

 

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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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

A:Ground Level, 50 Keerom Street, Cape Town, 8000

O: +27 (0) 21 422 2461

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Act like an adult when you divorce, not like a child!


It is well understood that the single most damaging thing for children of divorce is exposure to on-going conflict between the parents. It makes every transition fraught and difficult, and forces the child to take sides on things he/she should not have to take sides on. It pushes the child into painful loyalty conflicts, and often causes chronic anxiety states in children. Exposure to on-going conflict is also commonly associated with problems in the child’s own relationships when he/she grows up.

It’s a common assumption that children are negatively affected by their parents’ divorce, but a new divorce study shows that parental conflict and a lack of co-parenting are actually the true culprits when it comes to harming a child’s mental health.

According to psychologists at the University of Basque Country, divorce in itself isn’t the issue when it comes to a child’s long- and short-term problems associated with parents breaking up. The real issue when it comes to children and divorce are the presence of fighting parents, family instability, and family conflict.

The study followed over 400 families through the various stages of divorce. Throughout marital issues, separation and divorce, children were observed for signs of depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, and other common issues associated with divorce. Surprisingly, the study found that these problems only surfaced in cases where divorce was accompanied by other issues in the household, including parental conflict, changes in daily routine, and issues with co-parenting.

Separation and divorce is a traumatic event for children, regardless of their age.  When they’re told of the decision they have fears, worries and questions.  They wonder, Where will I live? Who will I live with? Do I have to leave? What about my friends? Will we still go on holidays? Will I get to see Dad? What about the dog? How much time will I spend with people? Can I still have lessons, hockey, rugby… The questions speak volumes on children’s interests’ and their wellbeing.

Conflict between parents can have a devastating effect on children during the divorce process, particularly during the time immediately before and after the divorce. Witnessing conflict can be confusing to the children because they love both parents and are generally torn in their loyalties to each of them.

While it is often difficult, to shield children from all parental conflict, it is of utmost importance to do so. Parents must always agree to put their children first by keeping them out of parental disagreements.

It is not uncommon to find that a custodial parent use the child as a weapon in the matrimonial combat and is sabotaging the contact and interaction of the non-custodial parent.  This is predominantly evident in high-conflict divorce cases where a parent might even go so far as to abduct the children to an overseas country, thereby alienating the relationship the other parent has with his/her children.

Of great concern, however, are the allegations one often hear of some lawyers making a practice of escalating the acrimony between divorcing / separating parents.

These practices occasionally include encouraging clients to make false claims of abuse, encouraging women to invoke violence as a way to ensure an advantage in parenting and financial disputes.  For instance, some unethical lawyers are encouraging clients to apply for protection orders under the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 in order to frustrate the attempts by the non-custodial parent to see his or her children.

Untruthful allegations also enter divorce proceedings by way of lawyers who place allegations of criminal behaviour in affidavits, without substantiation from child welfare practitioners or police authorities and without consequence to the accusing parent or lawyer involved. It may be that lawyers acting in such a way are pretty few and far between, but they certainly are there.

Children are often surprised by their parents’ decision to divorce and some knew things were tense before their parents separated but they never expected them to divorce.  Children sometimes feel they have no say in the decision to get divorced, and they are left unsure about what to expect in the future.

Most families experience a significant drop in income after a divorce. Money that was once applied to one household now have to support two, and often a single mother earn less than a single father. It is often impossible to have the same lifestyle that the family enjoyed before the divorce. This is a common risk in divorced families because maintaining economic stability is clearly a protective factor for children.

Source: http://voices.news24.com/bertus-preller/2012/07/if-you-do-divorce-act-like-an-adult-for-the-sake-of-your-children

Bertus Preller

Famly Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

Twitter: bertuspreller

Tel:  021 422 1323

Regular Blog: http://www.divorceattorneys.wordpress.com

Religion and Divorce – Can parents dictate a child’s religion?


Katie Holmes (Cruise) filed for divorce in a New York court last week after being married to Tom for five years, and they are expected to clash about how 6 year old Suri their minor child is brought up, with the 49-year-old actor adamant she remains part of the Scientology religion he is part of. We all know that Tom Cruise is incredibly passionate about Scientology and that this isn’t just some hobby for him. According to reports he truly believes in the church and its teachings and truly believes that it is imperative that his children are raised as Scientologists. Tom believes Scientology changes people’s lives for the better and, obviously, he wants what is best for his children.

The media frenzy about the divorce between Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes prompted two interesting questions in South Africa law, namely what if parents can’t agree on the spiritual upbringing of their child? and what if a child disagree with their parents religion or traditional socio-cultural beliefs?

There has been a dramatic shift during the twentieth century in the law regarding the relationship between parents and their children, both internationally and in South Africa. In the past there was an emphasis on the rights and powers of parents (termed parental authority), but this emphasis moved towards a more child-centred approach with the best interest of children at the forefront. Today parental authority is concerned more with parental responsibilities and duties, which should be exercised in the best interest of children, rather than with parental rights and powers. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa specifically protects the rights of children in that it recognises that children, as a vulnerable group within society, have specific and unique interests different from those of adults, and that these interests deserve special and separate protection.

The question regarding religion within the family relationship has been dealt with in 2001 in the case of Allsop v McCann. In this matter the custodian parent applied for an interdict to restrict the minor children in certain religious practices whilst in the non-custodian parent’s care. The custodian parent was from the Anglican denomination and the non-custodian parent from the Roman Catholic denomination. The custodian parent sought an interdict from preventing the children from attending the Catholic Church. The court held that the custodian parent (the parent who has primary care of the children) is entitled and required to direct the daily lives of the children and that educational, religious and secular activities fall within that duty. However the court ruled that neither parent may dictate what religion, if any, their children eventually adopt, but each parent is entitled to provide religious instruction. The application was accordingly dismissed.

In 2003 in the case of Kotze v Kotze the court refused to incorporate into a settlement agreement a provision which stated that both parties undertook to educate the child in the Apostolic Faith Church. The court, being the upper guardian in matters involving the best interests of a child, has extremely wide powers in establishing what such interests are. It was held that the clause was not in the best interest of the child as it did not afford him the freedom of religion that he was entitled to.

Recognising that children are the holders of fundamental rights may conflict with the rights of other holders of human rights especially within the family context, where different fundamental rights can come into conflict with one another, for instance between the parents’ right to religious freedom and their children’s rights to life and human dignity. This requires a weighing or balancing act to determine which right must take preference. This balancing of interests often creates tension, which can have serious negative implications for those involved within the family context.

In a ground-breaking case not so long ago the Western Cape High Court was requested for the first time to use its discretion to interfere in the parent-child relationship, due to the “traditional socio-cultural beliefs” of the parents. In what has been described as “every parent’s nightmare; the fancy of many teenagers”, a 16 year-old schoolgirl from the Western Cape asked to be “freed” from her parents to live semi-independently from them because of her unhappiness with the conservative manner in which her parents treated her. According to reports her parents came from a very conservative sector of South African society and kept her under constant supervision, barred her from talking to boys, communicating with friends on her mobile phone, reading what she likes (her parents found Harry Potter inappropriate) or even going out with friends after school.

The court granted her request to live semi-independently with a school friend and her family (referred to by the judge the host family) until she reaches the age of 18 (her majority). It was further ordered that the parents could have contact with her for two to three hours a week at a neutral venue and could phone her between 8:00 and 8:30 pm on a Tuesday and Friday. Holidays were shared between the host family and her parents. Despite the fact that the child no longer resided with her parents, the parents retained their responsibility to contribute to the maintenance of their child.

When parents are acting within the law, even though they are seen to be conservative, and their actions don’t reflect any form of abuse or neglect, their responsibilities and rights must take preference above the rights of their children, for without this kind of recognition the value of the traditional family unit as the natural and fundamental unit of our society will not be recognised. A child’s mere dislike or disapproval and personal preferences in their upbringing cannot alone tip the scales of justice in a child’s favour.

The relationship between parents and their children is very personal in nature. This domain forms part of the world of morality and not even the state should interfere unless the parents’ conduct towards the child is harmful or amounts to unlawfulness. When the conduct is not in the best interests of the child or contravenes constitutional rights, such conduct is inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution and thus invalid.

Source: http://voices.news24.com/bertus-preller/2012/07/divorce-can-parents-dictate-what-religion-a-child-should-adopt/

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

021 422 2461

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