International abduction of minors a South African Perspective
Article 3(b) of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980), which is incorporated into South African law by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Act 72 of 1996 (the Act), provides that the removal or retention of a child is to be considered wrongful if, among others, at the time of the removal or retention, the rights of custody were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.
In terms of article 13(b), the authority of the requested state is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body in the other state that opposes the return or retention establishes that there is a grave risk that his return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation. In Central Authority of the Republic of South Africa and Another v LG 2011 (2) SA 386 (GNP) the second applicant, the father, and the respondent, the mother, were married and living together with their minor child in the United Kingdom (UK). After several heated arguments the parties agreed to divorce and that the respondent would return to her native South Africa with the child. Alleging that the respondent agreed to return with the minor child to the UK after attending a wedding in South Africa and as she failed to do so she had unlawfully retained the child in this country, the second applicant (with the help of the first applicant, the Central Authority of South Africa) applied for a court order for the return of the child to the UK. The application was dismissed with costs.
Molopa-Sethosa J said the fact that the second applicant was prepared to stay away from the minor child, who was only 17-months-old at the time, for at least six months when the child was in South Africa with the respondent (who was during that time considering whether reconciliation with the second applicant was possible) was not indicative of a close bond between the second applicant and the child. Furthermore, the child would be exposed to the risk of psychological harm if he were to be returned to the second applicant who did not have the best interests of the child at heart. The fact that since the child had been in South Africa his health improved tremendously was of the utmost importance and could not be ignored.
Best interests and views of a child in international abduction matters:
In Central Authority v MR (LS Intervening) 2011 (2) SA 428 (GNP) the court dealt with the best interests of a minor child and her views in an international child abduction matter. After the death of her mother the minor child of some nine years lived with her biological father in Belgium. Subsequently the two relocated to Los Angeles, in the United States of America (USA), because of the father’s professional commitments.
There the two lived with the father’s new wife. After the child visited her maternal grandmother in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, the grandmother prevented the minor child returning to the father in Los Angeles and instituted an ex parte application to keep the child in this country. She sought, pending the final outcome of the family advocate’s investigation, full parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the minor. Meanwhile, the father sought the return of the child to the USA. The court dismissed the father’s application, but ordered the grandmother to pay costs because of the unacceptable way she instituted ex parte proceedings and for not being candid with the court.
by Bertus Preller, Family Law Attorney, Abrahams and Gross Inc Cape Town.
Paternity fraud refers to a paternal discrepancy, in which a mother names a man to be the biological father of a child, particularly for self-interest, when she knows or suspects that he is indeed not the biological father.
Fathers’ rights activists’ state that in cases of paternity fraud, there are many potential victims: the non-biological father who pays erroneously maintenance, the child deprived of a relationship with his/her biological father, and the biological father who is deprived of his relationship with his child. Other victims include the child’s and the non-biological father’s families. In particular, financial hardship may have resulted for the non-biological father’s due to the maintenance and child support that he has to pay and his other children and spouse in cases in which the man was forced to make maintenance payments for another man’s child.
In Australia, mothers are being forced to pay back thousands of dollars to men they wrongly claimed fathered their children following a contentious reform of child support laws. The Australian face of paternity fraud is a Melbourne man named Liam Magill. In 2002, Magill’s ex-wife Meredith was ordered to pay him $70,000 for general damages and the economic loss he suffered as a consequence of her false declaration that he was, as one newspaper report put it, the biological father of “her lover’s children”.
In the UK, single mothers are deliberately naming the wrong man as the father of their children when making maintenance claims. Child Support Agency figures show that nearly one in five of the contested paternity claims it handled last year cleared the man originally named as the father. These are the actual figures. Its figures for 2007-2008, obtained under freedom of information rules, show that out of 3,474 DNA paternity tests ordered, 661 – 19 per cent – named the wrong man. It is the highest proportion since the agency started collating figures nationally. Government-approved DNA testing kits, deemed 99.99 per cent accurate, have exposed 4,854 false paternity claims since records began in 1998-99.
In the United States it is estimated that almost 30% of DNA paternity tests, excluded the man as the father of the child in question. Of the 353,387 cases in 2003, 99,174 (28.06%) were reported as exclusions.
Issues regarding paternity have been dealt with in a number of cases in the South African Courts.
Presumption of Paternity
The South African Children’s Act confirms in Section 36 a presumption in respect of a child born out of wedlock (parties who were not married to each other). The presumption is that the person whom had sexual intercourse with the mother at any time when that child could have been conceived will be presumed to be the biological father of the child in the absence of evidence to the contrary which raises reasonable doubt.
In the case of S v L 1992 (3) SA 713 (E) it was held that the phrase “in the absence of evidence to the contrary which raises reasonable doubt” means that whenever there is evidence to the contrary, the presumption does not operate or ceases to operate.
This is also in line with the court’s decision in R v Epstein 1951 (1) SA 278 (O), where it was held that a presumption operating “in the absence of evidence to the contrary” only requires evidence, not proof, to counteract the presumption. The Children’s Act does not define the word “evidence”, thus any acceptable evidence suffices, regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial, however, it must raise reasonable doubt.
Compelling a person to undergo a paternity test
Most recently in YM v LB 2010 ZASCA 106 the Supreme Court of Appeal had been given an opportunity to provide judicial clarity on the law relating to court-ordered blood testing of potential parents refusing to voluntary submit themselves (and/or the minor child) to such testing, but the Court most unfortunately elected to side-step the issue based on the facts of the matter. It is not suggested that the court was necessarily wrong in its final decision, but it was hoped that it would provide guidelines as to this issue of compelling adults and children to undergo blood tests to determine paternity. In this case the court of first instance ordered the parents and child to undergo paternity testing, the decision of the court was then taken on appeal.
The issue had been unclear for about 30 years and certainty regarding the obligation and power of the court to order such tests against the wishes of one of the parties would have been valuable. It was indeed a missed opportunity to clarify the law once and for all.
The true biological paternity of a child is of the utmost importance in South Africa as it determines the parental responsibilities and rights of parties, including contact, care and the duty to maintain the child until the child becomes self-supporting. The
South African law remains rooted in biology. Unfortunately, it is not unknown for a woman to lie about whom she had intercourse with, resulting in two legal consequences:
(a) the husband is legally regarded as the father of the child with the accompanying rights and obligations; and
(b) the biological father is denied his parental rights and responsibilities that he may have had or have obtained automatically vis-à-vis his biological child.
The first principle has its roots in Roman law. I can’t imagine that it was ever the aim of the Roman law principles to force the husband of a wife to support another man’s child without his knowledge. The common law principle of stuprum after all made provision for the annulment of a marriage where a husband discovers that his wife was pregnant with the child of another man at the time of the marriage.
With DNA testing becoming more common and now being done for a variety of reasons, including medical testing for potential illnesses, this has resulted in a spate of paternity fraud cases making headline news worldwide. In these cases the husband and the child discover years later that the paternity was based on a lie and that the husband had supported the child for years as a result of this fraud (see inter alia the facts of Johncom Media Investments v M 2009 4 SA 7 (CC) (South Africa); Magill v Magill  VSCA 51 (17 March 2005) (Australia), supra and the allegations of the horror film director Andrew Douglas against his ex-wife Ameena Meer (USA). This trend is unlikely to end.
In YM v LB, supra, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found that where the paternity of the child has been shown on a balance of probabilities, as was the case in casu, scientific tests on a child should not be ordered. In this matter paternity was not really in dispute as both parties (at various times before the attorneys joined the show) believed that the man in question was the father of the child. The mother’s maternity was obviously never in doubt.
The court made the following observations:
(a) that as paternity is determined on a balance of probabilities, the man is not entitled to demand scientific proof;
(b) that in relevant instances, the court has the inherent power as upper guardian of all minor children to order such tests if it is in the best interests of the child;
(c) the SCA referred to the observations of the court a quo regarding truth as a primary value in the administration of justice, but by implication disagree with the statement.
The SCA did note that the rights of privacy and bodily integrity may be infringed if it is in the best interests of the child. However, it confirmed the statement made by Judge Didcott in an earlier case that it may not be in an individual’s best interest to know the truth. The court noted that in some cases it may be justified to order tests, but that the discovery of the truth should not be generalized. With these comments, the appeal was upheld.
The basis of a paternity matter is that the applicant will have to show that such a test would be in the best interest of the child. This in itself is extremely difficult as there seems to be no research done in South Africa as to the impact on a child that learns, at a much later stage, that his/her presumed father was not the biological father. One may argue that paternity testing may have a negative short-term impact on the family as it may reveal relationships that were previously unknown. After all, it has been acknowledged that from a broader family perspective, family genes are considered to be a valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations. Personally I am yet to be convinced by our courts that it would be better not to know the truth or to keep the truth from a child at any age and I ponder whether this is indeed in the interests of a child. In disputed paternity claims the emotional trauma of uncertainty definitely taints the relationships between the parents and sometimes also the relationships between the probable father and the child. Trauma such as this can be easily be resolved through testing. For the SCA to note that the man is not entitled to scientific proof when the reality is that it can readily be done seems to unnecessarily muddle such an important issue with legalities.
In O v O, Friedman JP stated that there is no statutory or common-law power enabling the court to order an adult to allow a blood sample to be taken for the purpose of establishing paternity. Although there is still no such power it is submitted that Section 37 of the Children’s Act does not bring certainty. The section states that if a person in proceedings in which paternity of a child is challenged refuses to submit him/herself, or the child, to take blood samples in order to carry out a scientific test to prove the paternity of the child, then a presumption in our law exists in which the failure of such a party to agree to such a test may be used as evidence to prove the contrary. The effect of this section is that it compels a court to warn the person who has refused to have his/her or the child’s blood sample taken ‘of the effect’ which such refusal might have on his/her credibility. The problem is that the section does not go far enough and does not resolve the main issue, namely the truth about the paternity of the child.
Although the SCA overturned the initial decision of the High Court, namely to force the parents and the child to undergo DNA testing, it is submitted that certain statements of the original decision remains quite valid. The court of first instance confirmed that judicial notice may be taken of the existence of these tests and that it is unnecessary for medical evidence to be adduced regarding the nature and accuracy of these tests before and that this does not exclude any challenge to the reliability of any particular test in litigation once the test had been performed. There is however no guidance as to the most important question: whether or not it will be in the best interests of the minor child to determine paternity with certainty.
A number of questions still remain, most importantly what weight our courts in future will place on the argument that concealing the truth from a child might have the supposed advantage of not ‘bastardising’ the child or cutting it off from an established source of maintenance? It surely creates an inherent and inescapable injustice in compelling a person to assume obligations not rightfully his.
The father in the YM v LB matter did agree to a marriage, but not to raise another man’s child. What is also important is that a child of the age of 18 has the right to the medical information of his genetic parents in instances of artificial fertilisation and surrogacy which is recognised by section 41(1) of the Children’s Act. One may argue that by refusing the compelling of blood tests for paternity disputes in instances of natural conception would result in denying these children of their right to information of their genetic parents.
It is my respectful view that the court of first instance was correct when it concluded that it will be in the best interests of the child that paternity be scientifically determined and it is unfortunate that the SCA did not provide the legal fraternity with their wisdom.
Another recent decision, this time by the High Court in the Western Cape in the matter of N v J Case Number A653/2009 are of importance. This case concerned an appeal from the Magistrates Court. The Appellant (the Defendant in the court a quo) and the Respondent (the Plaintiff a quo) were married to each other on 25 February 1989. Their union bore a daughter, who was born in June 1990. For the sake of convenience I shall refer to the parties as in the court a quo. On 3 February 1995 the parties were divorced and pursuant thereto the Plaintiff was directed to maintain the child by effecting payment of the sum of R350,00 per month and to retain her on his medical aid fund.
It was common cause that during the period February 1995 to June 2006 the Plaintiff paid to the Defendant the sum of R50050,00 in respect of maintenance for the child. The said sum included payment of an amount of R1000,00 to a Primary School in January 2000. In June 2006 the child underwent a paternity test which showed conclusively that the Plaintiff was not her natural father. On 30 July 2007, pursuant to an application brought by the Plaintiff an order was granted declaring that the Plaintiff was not the natural father of The child and, inter alia, varying the divorce order in terms of Section 8 of the Divorce Act, 70 of 1979, by the deletion of the Plaintiff’s maintenance obligations towards The child. At the same time the Plaintiff instituted action in the Magistrate’s Court for recovery of the sum of R50050,00 that he paid in maintenance. His claim was upheld and the Defendant appealed against the order of the magistrate.
It was common cause that the parties were married on 25 February 1989 and that the child was born on 12 June 1990. Assuming a normal pregnancy of nine months, this would mean that the Defendant committed an act of adultery around September/October 1989 during which the child would have been conceived.
The Plaintiff testified that he had always believed that he was the natural father of the girl and that he raised her as such with the Defendant until they were divorced in February 1995. The Plaintiff further testified that he did not oppose his wife’s claims at divorce because he regarded the marriage as irretrievably broken down and because he believed that he was obliged to maintain the child whom he regarded as his daughter. After the divorce the Plaintiff maintained the child for more than ten years. He testified that he later became resentful about the Defendant’s persistent claims for maintenance increases and eventually decided to ask for a paternity test. The Plaintiff also testified that he was urged by certain family members to go for such tests. They evidently had reason to suspect that the Plaintiff was not the father and eventually he succumbed to their entreaties.
The Plaintiff stated that the Defendant never confessed her adultery to him and that his impression was that she never had any idea of who the real father of the child was. Under cross-examination the Plaintiff accepted that he had defaulted on his maintenance obligations over the years but said that he had then paid up in full from time to time. He confirmed that he had paid the maintenance because he was obliged to do so in terms of the divorce order. Unfortunately the Defendant did not testify and so one does not know the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. Importantly, there was no evidence to suggest that she knew that her adultery had resulted in the birth of the child and that she intentionally withheld that information from the Plaintiff. Had that been the case her claim in the divorce action for maintenance for the child would have been fraudulent and would have afforded the Plaintiff a different cause of action.
The Plaintiff’s legal obligation to pay the maintenance in respect of the child arises directly from an order of Court and was accordingly an obligation he could not avoid. The basis therefore was his assumption that a child born during the subsistence of the marriage was fathered by him. This is in accordance with the rebuttable common law presumption: pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant.
While it cannot be contended that the Plaintiff laboured under a mistake of law, the divorce order was underpinned by an erroneous factual assumption, (paternity) either by the parties jointly or, at least, by the Plaintiff. The Judge demonstrated that the SCA has disregarded any notional distinction between mistakes of law and fact: the focus is essentially on whether the payment was made indebitum i.e. without legal ground. While the parties were still married the Plaintiff maintained the child as a member of the household, believing that she was his child and that he was duty bound to do so. When the Defendant issued the divorce summons and claimed payment of maintenance for the child, the Plaintiff still believed that the child was his daughter. As stated, by not contesting the divorce action, he effectively consented to the Defendant’s claims, which included claims in compliance with the provisions of Section 6 of the Divorce Act which preclude the granting of a decree of divorce until the Court is satisfied that adequate provision has been made for the care and maintenance of any child born of the marriage.
Given the findings which the Judge made, it was not necessary to come to a final decision on this aspect of the case, save to state the father’s claim to re-claim the maintenance that he paid over the years did not succeed. Our courts may in the future be wary of recognising claims in circumstances such as the present which necessitate an enquiry into paternity and which may have the tendency to destroy an otherwise loving and caring parental relationship with a child whose rights to family and parental care are protected under section 28 of the Constitution.
What is disturbing is the fact that it is impossible to accurately estimate just how widespread paternity fraud is. One may assume that there are a plethora of men in South Africa who are currently raising another man’s child; blissfully unaware of the devastating truth. For each of these men, the truth will only be revealed if the woman who duped them decides to confess, or for some reason, a paternity test is taken. A real problem however is to compel someone to undergo such a test in legal terms as evidenced by the cases dealt with above. It remains to be seen how our courts will deal with this issue in future. Fact is that naming the wrong father, could result in criminal prosecution, if proven that the mother concealed the truth deliberately.
About the Author:
Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town and deals with Family Law cases on a national basis. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.
Contact: 021 422 1323
As an attorney I often advise clients regarding what they should and should not do during a contested divorce where care and contact of the children or custody as we know it is at stake. Here are some important lessons learned from the hours of Charlie Sheen interviews attracting media attention the past few weeks.
Call me old fashioned, but a judge typically do not let 2-year-old twins return to a house where the dad is having a 2 ½ -some.
If you are going to partake in “extracurricular activities” during a custody dispute, at least find a hotel, there are lots of these in South Africa. It is much easier explaining to a judge this charge on a credit card, as opposed to justifying why this behaviour is appropriate in the home.
When determining child custody issues, South African courts have accepted through the years the “Best Interest of the Child” standard. This means that courts are free to consider whatever facts they believe to be relevant when making a child custody determination. This standard is based upon the legal theory “in loco parentis,” which basically means that the court stands “in the place of the parent” when asked to determine a child custody matter. Accordingly, the court takes the place of both the parents when determining what is best for the children in the circumstances.
In the Sheen matter, the analysis will be slightly more complicated. Sheen and Brooke Mueller recently signed a custody agreement or as we know it in South Africa a parenting plan. By signing this document, both the parents essentially stated that they believed the terms of the agreement will be in the best interest of the children. Mueller has asked the court to set aside the recent custody agreement because of a change of circumstances (e.g. Sheen’s recent strange and disturbing behaviour), and because the change would be in the best interest of the children. Because of all the interviews that Sheen has given, there is no shortage of proof that Sheen has new or exasperated issues (whether it be manic episodes, bipolar symptoms, drug use or just poor parenting decisions), and that the agreement granting Sheen unsupervised visitation rights should be re-examined.
At the very least, Sheen’s decision to expose the two-year-old twins to his two so-called “goddesses” will be seen as an important change of circumstances to cause the court to make a thorough analysis of what future care and contact arrangements is in the best interest of the children.
A Porn star is not a qualification to be a nanny.
If you are wealthy and fighting custody battles rather hire someone akin to Mary Poppins. She would be a great witness at trial and people may even love the accent.
Admitting taking substantial amounts of cocaine in the past months, when you claim that your wife has a sobriety problem; it’s almost like the pot calling the kettle “Charlie Sheen.”
Courts appreciate when a parent admits that there is a problem and attempts to get help for that problem and Judges will recognize that people are fallible. If a parent, such as in Sheen’s case goes on national television to proclaim that he is not fallible and in fact has tiger blood, he has not helped his case.
If you have already shot your fiancé and threatened your second wife, been arrested on a violent charge, you probably shouldn’t threaten to kill your current wife during a custody case.
Violence against the other parent will be considered when determining custody and visitation arrangements. This is because courts do recognize that a child’s psyche is significantly affected when watching or learning that there have been acts of domestic violence between his or her parents. If a parent threatens (or is violent against) the other parent, courts may surmise that this parent may threaten (or become violent against) the child in the future.
If we have learned nothing else from Napoleon, you probably shouldn’t fight a two-front war at the same time.
If you have your hands full with a custody battle with wife number three, maybe now is not the time to make threatening and derogatory statements against wife number two. I know it is a recession, but your divorce attorneys may not be that hard up for work.
So what should Sheen do now? The answer is clear….do what is in the best interest of the children.
Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town who deals with divorce matters all over South Africa and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising 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. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.
The cruellest way you can tell your spouse you want out of the marriage is to never mention that you are unhappy and then, one day quite out of the blue say, “I’m not happy. I want a divorce.” I call this a “hit and run” way to tell your spouse you want out of the marriage and, in my professional opinion, it is the most hurtful, hateful and heinous way to exit your nuptials.
Those on the receiving end of this proclamation would surely agree with me. A hundred per cent of the people who come to see me after their spouse has dropped this two ton bomb on them have been nothing short of devastated, bleary eyed and incapacitated–often for a long time. What, when and how you tell your spouse you want a divorce will depend greatly on whether the two of you have had any previous conversations about divorce.
Couples who have been mutually unhappy or have had conversations using the “D” word will obviously be less thrown off than those who didn’t see it coming. One woman described the day she was told this way: “My biggest concern that morning as we went to work was what we would be having for dinner that night.” She had no idea that her husband was even unhappy, let alone that he was thinking of leaving. It makes me wonder why so many people take this strategy. What could they be thinking? Or not thinking? Feeling? Or not feeling? While there are always exceptions to any rule, I have seen five main reasons why “hit and runs” are so prevalent. I’ve also included rebuttals to these reasons that demonstrate how the leaver actually ends up getting the opposite result intended.
1) Fear: If I tell him I’m unhappy, he will go to pieces and I’ll feel guilty Where’s the logic here? Do you not see that if you LEAVE suddenly he will be more likely to go to pieces and you will feel more guilty?
2) Selfishness: I don’t care about her feelings. “I just want out!” Treating someone with this level of disrespect and disregard actually keeps you in longer and stronger because the person you are leaving is in shock and often can’t/won’t accept the fact that you really mean what you are saying and that you want out.
3) Impatience: I just want to get this over with! Again, the chances of exiting quickly or gracefully diminish drastically when you give your spouse no warning of your departure. Your spouse, who may be just starting the grief process, will delay the process interminably by having to have their emotions “catch up” to yours.
4) Lack of Courage: I’m a “rip the band-aid off quickly” kind of person because I can’t stand to hurt someone If this person had courage, they would have told their spouse way back when that they were not happy. They would have had the courage to do the work it takes on themselves and on the marriage; the courage to face their problems.
5) Sneakiness: Maybe I can live a double life and he’ll never find out It is often people who have been having an affair who take this tack in leaving their marriage. They have set themselves up with a new life and they are ready to move on. I’m sure there are other justifications people can come up with as to why they leave this way, but it only serves to make the process take longer, make the separation more difficult, make your spouse more emotional and perhaps even irrational and it is not the way you treat someone you exchanged vows with.
By Susan Pease Gadoua Author, Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go Original article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-pease-gadoua/how-not-to-tell-your-spou_b_820042.html
Father’s Rights activists in the USA have been attempting to have Parental Alienation Disorder added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses.
Parental Alienation Syndrome explains a child’s estrangement from one parent or allegations of abuse at the hands of one parent by blaming the other. The theory, developed by the late Richard A. Gardner, M.D., portrays the preferred parent as an evil “alienator” who is virtually solely responsible for turning a vulnerable child against their estranged parent. Parental alienation syndrome occurs when one parent’s efforts to consciously or unconsciously brainwash a child combine with the child’s own bad-mouthing of the other parent. In severe cases, the child won’t want to see or talk to the alienated parent.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is a disturbance in the child who, in the context of divorce, becomes preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of one parent, which designation is unjustified or exaggerated or both. Parental Alienation Syndrome arises primarily from a combination of parental influence and a child’s active contribution to the campaign of deprecation, factors which may mutually reinforce one another.
Parental Alienation Syndrome may be divided into three categories – severe, moderate and mild. Although there is actually a continuum, and many cases do not fit neatly into one of the three classifications, the differentiation is important. The alienation of the child is gradual and consistent. It becomes worse if the child has no time with the targeted parent. Time is on the side of the alienating parent. Children who are exposed to Parental Alienation Syndrome may develop mental illnesses; it can have profound long-term consequences. Studies of adults who had been victims of Parental Alienation Syndrome when they were young showed that the Parental Alienation Syndrome impacted on their ability to trust and to believe in things like honesty and openness and those relationships with members of the opposite sex can work. Parents should be able to trust each other but children who had been victims of Parental Alienation Syndrome believed that the alienated parent could not be trusted. The studies showed that, as the persons concerned had grown up and severed ties with the alienating parent, they discovered that many of the things that they had been told by that parent were not true. They discovered that the targeted parent was not as bad as they had been led to believe and, in some cases, that he was in fact ‘a good guy’. The young person then found himself or herself in the position that he or she could no longer trust the alienating parent but at the same time could not trust the targeted parent. In many of the cases, the studies showed that the person concerned was maladjusted and failed in inter-personal relationships. Typically, when a child is aware of the alienation it is not happy.
Parental alienation syndrome is not a gender specific issue. It was once believed women were the main perpetrators of parental alienation, but no longer almost 50% are men. Perpetrators who are men tend to be narcissistic, characterized by a sense of entitlement, arrogance and low empathy. Female alienators often have borderline personalities, marked by insecurities, neediness, a strong fear of abandonment and chronic emptiness.
When it comes to parental alienation the focus should be on the child who has a right to equal time with both father and mother.
Making parental alienation a disorder instead of a syndrome has nothing to do with whether or not you have a “uterus, divorce papers and bruises.” Most mothers put their children’s needs first. Most fathers do the same.
It is trite in family law that the ‘best interests’ of each child is paramount in determining the contact and care of and access arrangements to such child. Such interests have been described as ‘an elusive concept’.
In determining what is in the best interests of the child, the Court must decide which of the parents is better able to promote and ensure his physical, moral, emotional and spiritual welfare. This can be assessed by reference to certain factors or criteria which are set out hereunder, not in order of importance, and also bearing in mind that there is a measure of unavoidable overlapping and that some of the listed criteria may differ only as to nuance. The criteria are the following:
- the love, affection and other emotional ties which exist between parent and child and the parent’s compatibility with the child;
- the capabilities, character and temperament of the parent and the impact thereof on the child’s needs and desires;
- the ability of the parent to communicate with the child and the parent’s insight into, understanding of and sensitivity to the child’s feelings;
- the capacity and disposition of the parent to give the child the guidance which he requires;
- the ability of the parent to provide for the basic physical needs of the child, the so-called ‘creature comforts’, such as food, clothing, housing and the other material needs – generally speaking, the provision of economic security;
- the ability of the parent to provide for the educational well-being and security of the child, both religious and secular;
- the ability of the parent to provide for the child’s emotional, psychological, cultural and environmental development;
- the mental and physical health and moral fitness of the parent;
- the stability or otherwise of the child’s existing environment, having regard to the desirability of maintaining the status quo;
- the desirability or otherwise of keeping siblings together;
- the child’s preference, if the Court is satisfied that in the particular circumstances the child’s preference should be taken into consideration;
- the desirability or otherwise of applying the doctrine of same sex matching;
- any other factor which is relevant to the particular case with which the Court is concerned.
Compiled by: Bertus Preller
Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising 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. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.
Section 10 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 in South Africa provides that 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 that views expressed by the child must be given due consideration.
The application of the section arose in HG v CG. The matter concerned four children whose parents were divorced in 2006. The eldest, a boy, M A was then aged eleven and his siblings, a set of eight year old triplets, comprising two boys R A and M N and a girl, K E. In terms of the settlement agreement the parents were awarded joint custody of the children, the intention being that the children would spend an equal amount of time with each parent. They agreed to sell two of the immovable properties jointly owned by them and divide the proceeds equally among themselves and further agreed that in order to facilitate the joint custody regime, they would each purchase a home. These homes were duly acquired and the contemplated arrangement became a reality, the children spending alternate weeks with each parent.
Three years later when the eldest child was fourteen years of age and the other three (triplets) were eleven years of age, the applicant, Mrs G, approached the High Court by way of urgent application for variation of the custody order. In the application Mrs G sought an order declaring her the primary care provider of the children as well as the authority to permanently remove them from South Africa to Dubai, a Persian Gulf state, there to live with a new man whom she planned to marry.
Experts commissioned by the applicant, being a social worker and clinical psychologist, recommended that the applicant be the primary care provider and that she relocate with the children to Dubai as proposed. Experts not commissioned by the applicant held a different view, finding that relocation would not be in the best interest of the children as they would miss their father, school friends and the city of Port Elizabeth to which they were accustomed. Chetty J dismissed the application and ordered each party to pay own costs.
The guiding principle in matters involving children is that the interests of the children are paramount. This is entrenched in the Constitution, section 28 of which provides that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning a child.
The Children’s Act was promulgated to give effect to this constitutional imperative, section 9 of which echoes the constitutional injunction.
Section 6 of the Act under the rubric, General principles, contains various guidelines and inter alia provides that –
(2) All proceedings, actions or decisions in a matter concerning a child must—
(a) respect, protect, promote and fulfil the child’s rights set out in the Bill of Rights, the best interests of the child standard set out in section 7 and the rights and principles set out in this Act, subject to any lawful limitation;”
The best interests of the child standard referred to in the preceding paragraph is given content in section 7 of the Act which provides:
“7. Best interests of child standard.—(1) Whenever a provision of this Act requires the best interests of the child standard to be applied, the following factors must be taken into consideration where relevant, namely—
(a) the nature of the personal relationship between—
(i) the child and the parents, or any specific parent; and
(ii) the child and any other care-giver or person relevant in those circumstances;
(b) the attitude of the parents, or any specific parent, towards—
(i) the child; and
(ii) the exercise of parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child;
(c) the capacity of the parents, or any specific parent, or of any other care-giver or person, to provide for the needs of the child, including emotional and intellectual needs;
(d) the likely effect on the child of any change in the child’s circumstances, including the likely effect on the child of any separation from—
(i) both or either of the parents; or
(ii) any brother or sister or other child, or any other care-giver or person, with whom the child has been living;
(e) the practical difficulty and expense of a child having contact with the parents, or any specific parent, and whether that difficulty or expense will substantially affect the child’s right to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the parents, or any specific parent, on a regular basis;
(f) the need for the child—
(i) to remain in the care of his or her parent, family and extended family; and
(ii) to maintain a connection with his or her family, extended family, culture or tradition;
(g) the child’s—
(i) age, maturity and stage of development;
(iii) background; and
(iv) any other relevant characteristics of the child;
(h) the child’s physical and emotional security and his or her intellectual, emotional, social and cultural development;
(i) any disability that a child may have;
(j) any chronic illness from which a child may suffer;
(k) the need for a child to be brought up within a stable family environment and, where this is not possible, in an environment resembling as closely as possible a caring family environment;
(l) the need to protect the child from any physical or psychological harm that may be caused by—
(i) subjecting the child to maltreatment, abuse, neglect, exploitation or degradation or exposing the child to violence or exploitation or other harmful behaviour; or
(ii) exposing the child to maltreatment, abuse, degradation, ill-treatment, violence or harmful behaviour towards another person;
(m) any family violence involving the child or a family member of the child; and
(n) which action or decision would avoid or minimise further legal or administrative proceedings in relation to the child.
(2) In this section “parent” includes any person who has parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child.”
The Act has brought about a fundamental shift in the parent/child relationship from that which prevailed in the pre-constitutional era and now not only vests a child with certain rights but moreover gives a child the opportunity to participate in any decision making affecting him or her. Thus section 10 of the Act explicitly recognizes a child’s inherent rights in any matter affecting him or her and provides that –
Child participation.—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 views expressed by the child must be given due consideration.
The court said that the Act brought about a fundamental shift in the parent/child relationship and not only vested a child with certain rights but also gave a child the opportunity to participate in any decision-making affecting him. The court was enjoined by the Act to give due consideration to the views of the children. In the present case the minor children were of an age and level of maturity to make an informed decision, namely to preserve the status quo of joint custody by both parents and reject relocation to Dubai.
Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney