Divorce Attorney Cape Town

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

The Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children


More and more scientific information is being accumulated about the long-term effects that a divorce has on children. Until quite recently, most of what we knew was about the immediate or the so-called short-term effects of divorce, but long-term studies are providing more insights about the effects of divorce on the formation of intimate relationships and marriages in adulthood.

The major finding that gets the most attention is the slightly increased likelihood that children of a divorce will also divorce one day.

One interesting new report on the long-term effects of divorce on intimate relationships was conducted in Finland and reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (2011). A group of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Helsinki conducted a 16-year follow-up study of 1471 teenagers in one Finnish community. Ulla Mustonen and colleagues were surveyed the intimate relationships of these adults at 32 years of age and the role that parent-child relationships may have played in their adult relationships.

In keeping with past research, they found that children with divorced parents were somewhat more likely to be separated or divorced in young adulthood. Additionally, young women whose parents divorced were also less likely to have been married. Surprisingly, parental divorce showed no predictive relationship with divorce for young men.

On the other hand, there were a number of important findings about the ways in which parental divorce really affected young women. Though parental divorce itself did have a direct effect on young women’s chances of divorce, the major effect of divorce on young women was the mother-daughter relationship in adolescence. Parental divorce tended to undermine the mother-daughter relationship; however, when a positive relationship was maintained, this resulted in better self-esteem and satisfaction with social support in young adulthood, which contributed to better intimate relationships.

This finding means that one of the key factors in fostering the long-term well-being of children of divorce is through strengthening positive parent-child relationships. For this study, a positive parent-child relationship was more important for women than men, but the importance of these adolescent relationships should not be overlooked as we think about programs and policies to foster the long-term health of children.

These findings highlight a key direction for future research on the effects of divorce on children. The mere finding that these children may be more at-risk of difficulties should no longer occupy so much of our attention. The important work is understanding the factors within relationships and family process that contribute to these outcomes and identifying opportunities to buffer the negative effects while building on the positive factors. Much progress in improving children’s well-being is possible and deserving of more attention.

Article appeared in Huffington Post

New Research Gives Insights into Guidance about Parenting Plans


New Research Gives Insights into Guidance about Parenting Plans

Is shared parenting the best arrangement for kids? Should infants and toddlers be shuttled between two homes? Is it important to include children in decisions about care and contact? These are just some of the difficult questions facing parents, attorneys, judges, mediators and others who are involved in navigating children through the divorce process.

Recently, several numbers of reports have been released that summarize the state of the research on parental issues. The results are surely not simple, but they provide some really helpful insights into what parents need to consider in managing parenting following a divorce.

Marsha Pruett, Smith College of Social Work, provides a general set of guidelines for children at different ages. She notes that children at different ages have varying needs and differing abilities to navigate through and cope with the variations in changing families. She notes further that equal time in parenting is not always the best arrangement for families. She also reminds parents, “It is the quality of time and parenting – not the quantity – that is more highly related to closeness between parent and child.” According to her, “The absolute amount of parenting time should be emphasized less than a plan that allows for a schedule that enables both parents to feel and act engaged and responsible.”

A particularly challenging divorce situation is one in which the children are very young–infants and toddlers. There has been much debate about the appropriateness of overnight stays and shared parenting arrangements in general. Jennifer McIntosh has been studying this issue that provides a good summary of the research evidence to date. There is lots of evidence that parenting during the first 3 years of a child’s life is critical to health development, particularly in how child manage their emotions and cope with stress. McIntosh’s summary of the current evidence is that children in the first 3 years of life should not involve overnight care in two homes. She also notes that young children’s attachment to the non-residential parent can be achieved through regular contact that involves “warm, lively, attuned caregiving.” In short, children’s development depends less on whether or not children sleep in two homes, than on the quality of the parenting.

There are three primary ways parents can help insure that their children have fewer difficulties following divorce writes, JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, “the degree and duration of hostile conflict, the quality of parenting provided over time, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.” She summarizes the important research findings that focus on each of these factors. She emphasized that it is important for children to have rules and routines that give them a sense of security. Likewise, they need to know that they are loved and cared for by hearing the words, but also by actions that reflect active and engaged talk and play. And they will thrive better when their parents manage their own strong emotions and conflicts. She recommends that parents reframe their relationship to a more business-like model in which the goal is the well-being of the children. For high-conflict parents she describes a model of parallel parenting that can best serve children and minimize conflict.

Source: Huffington Post

The Effects of Divorce on Children


The Effects of Divorce on Children

As a family law attorney I am involved on a daily basis in stories about divorce or care and contact issues between parents and children and many times I see how the loss of a parent has affected the lives of children. Although my approach is  always clinical, I’m often saddened by these stories, but in awe as to how many of these adult children have risen above their loss to develop an emotionally healthy outlook on life.

It was with great interest that I watched psychotherapist, Gary Neuman, who appeared on one of Oprah’s shows. Gary interviewed two young children, a brother and sister; they were abandoned by their mother when she divorced her husband, their father. Both children were crying, and yet were remarkably articulate in their description of their thoughts and feelings regarding their mother’s abandonment of them due to divorce. While parents do divorce each other, they don’t divorce their children.

Children nonetheless are the ones who live out the divorce because their day-to-day routines, not to mention their emotional lives, are so deeply affected by it. And of course, the impact of being estranged or abandoned by a parent as a result of divorce can have far reaching and long lasting consequences on their lives. A number of experts on children of divorce question whether the abandonment or estrangement necessarily leads to lifelong behavioural and emotional scarring. What they do find is that one parent’s love, nurturing, and support, can go a long way to helping a child overcome many of the emotional and behavioural issues that otherwise could ensue.

It is a fact that divorce can affect the closeness of the parent versus child relationship for a number for reasons and can take a serious emotional toll on the child. Joan Kelly, one of the America’s foremost experts on children of divorce, defines an estranged relationship between a parent and child as a diminished, thinned out, and less meaningful bond. She says that 24% of children in the United States from divorced families are seeing a parent once a year, if at all and one may assume that this figure is even bigger in South Africa.

In his research, Robert Emery Director of the Centre for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, found that non-residential fathers saw their children only 4 times per month following divorce, and about 20% of children had no contact at all with their fathers 2-3 years after divorce. Other research have concluded that, many students of divorced parents who had a limited relationship with their fathers while growing up stated that they would have liked more contact with their fathers during their adolescence, would have liked to have been closer, and wanted more time together. It is a fact that a parent’s rejection of a child or a parent’s inconsistent presence could drastically affect a child’s self esteem.

One good parent who is loving and nurturing can overcome the negative effects of losing the relationship with the other parent. While the emotional impact on a child resulting from the loss of a parent’s relationship could be significant, it doesn’t have to be disastrous.

The following advice should be considered:

  • Family is not a just about biology. Find role models who will support and care about you. Be there for your kids.
  • Be reliable, pay maintenance, show your love, and do what you say you are going to do.
  • Provide help. Initiate the conversation about their loss of the relationship with their other parent.
  • Lend an understanding ear. Don’t lecture, and don’t feel you have to have the perfect answer.
  • Honesty. Find help for what to say to your children if you don’t know what to say. Children need to be heard.
  • You can’t control what the other parent does; you can only control yourself.
  • To help your children get through their pain, ensure that they feel heard and listened to –that gives them value.

You want your children to perceive themselves with their own goals and aspirations, independent of their status as the children of divorce.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

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