Divorce Attorney Cape Town

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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Grounds for Divorce in South Africa


GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Dissolution of marriage and grounds of divorce

A marriage may be dissolved by a court by a decree of divorce and the only grounds on which such a decree may be granted in terms of the South African Divorce Act are

  • the irretrievable break-down of the marriage as contemplated in section 4;
  • the mental illness or the continuous unconsciousness, as contemplated in section 5, of a party to the marriage.

Irretrievable break-down of marriage as ground of divorce

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the irretrievable break-down of a marriage if it is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties to the marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Section 4 (2) of the Divorce Act lays down three circumstances which a Court may accept as evidence of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage and these are that:-

  • the parties have not lived together as husband and wife for a continuous period of at least one year immediately prior to the date of the institution of the divorce action.
  • the Defendant has committed adultery and that the Plaintiff finds it irreconcilable with a continued marriage relationship
  • the Defendant has in terms of a sentence of a Court been declared a habitual criminal and is undergoing imprisonment as a result of such sentence.

This does not mean however that:- the man and wife have to live in separate buildings but in the past our Courts have been unwilling to (even on a undisputed basis), hear the case if the parties are still living in the same house on the date of the application. There must be a reasonable explanation, but even then some judges have refused to grant a decree of divorce.

If the Plaintiff is a party to an adulterous relationship it may be proof of a real break-down of the marriage. If irretrievable breakdown has been proved, the court still has discretion to refuse the divorce.

In terms of section 4(3) of the Divorce Act the Court still has discretion not to grant a divorce order but postpone the proceedings sine die or even dismiss the claim if it appears to the Court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection. The Summons also usually contains the averment that further marriage counselling and/or treatment will not lead to any reconciliation. This evidence must also be tendered to the Court even on an unopposed basis.

The Court must therefore be satisfied that the marriage has really irretrievably broken down and that there is no possibility of the continuation of a normal marriage, before a final divorce order will be granted.

The court may postpone the proceedings in order that the parties may attempt reconciliation if it appears to the court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection.

Where the parties live together again after the issue of Summons, it does not necessarily end the underlying cause of the action. If the reconciliation after a few months is seemingly unsuccessful, they can proceed on the same Summons.  Where a divorce action which is not defended is postponed in order to afford the parties an opportunity to attempt reconciliation, the court may direct that the action be tried de novo, on the date of resumption thereof, by any other magistrate/ judge of the court concerned in terms of section 4(4) of the Divorce Act.

A customary marriage may be dissolved only on account of an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage and only if the High, Family or Divorce Court is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Mental illness or continuous unconsciousness as grounds of divorce:

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the mental illness of the defendant if it is satisfied that the defendant, in terms of the Mental

Health Act 18 of 1973; has been admitted as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order; is being detained as a State patient at an institution or other place specified by the Minister of Correctional Services; or is being detained as a mentally ill convicted prisoner at an institution.

A divorce order may also be granted if such defendant has also for a continuous period of at least two years immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action, not been discharged unconditionally as such a patient,

State patient or mentally ill prisoner; and the court has heard evidence of at least two psychiatrists, of whom one shall have been appointed by the court, that the defendant is mentally ill and that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground that the defendant is by reason of a physical disorder in a state of continuous unconsciousness, if it is satisfied that the defendant’s unconsciousness has lasted for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action; and after having heard the evidence of at least two medical practitioners, of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neurosurgeon appointed by the court, that there is no reasonable prospect that the defendant will regain consciousness.

The court may appoint a legal practitioner to represent the defendant at proceedings under this section and order the plaintiff to pay the costs of such representation.

The court may make any order it may deem fit with regard to the furnishing of security by the plaintiff in respect of any patrimonial benefits to which the defendant may be entitled by reason of the dissolution of the marriage.

For the purposes of this section the expressions ‘institution’, ‘mental illness’, ‘patient’, ‘State patient’ and ‘reception order’ shall bear the meaning assigned to them in the Mental Health Act, 1973.

The circumstances under which a court may grant a divorce order on the basis of mental illness or continuous unconsciousness is as follows:-

  •  In the case of mental illness the Defendant must have been admitted, in terms of the Mental Health Act, 1973 (Act No 18 of 1973), as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order, for a period of at least two years and in any case two psychiatrists (one appointed by the Court) must satisfy the Court that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.
  • In the case of unconsciousness the Court will only grant the order if the Defendant was unconscious for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the action and also after hearing the evidence of two medical practitioners of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neuro-surgeon appointed by the Court who must declare that there is no reasonable prospect that the Defendant will regain consciousness.

In such cases a curator ad litem must be appointed to protect the interests of the Defendant (patient) and to assist the Court.

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.

Divorce Questions: Interview with Bertus Preller Family and Divorce Law Attorney Cape Town


Divorce Questions: Interview with Bertus Preller Family Law Attorney

Most couples going through the end of their marriage ask the same divorce questions. Regardless of how long people were married, they still need to find a Family Law Attorney and sort through issues regarding property, finances, children, and emotional trauma. Having accurate information is a crucial part of the divorce and healing process.

Family and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller is a Family Law Specialist. A graduate of the Free State and University of Johannesburg, he represents celebrities and other high-net worth individuals in their divorce proceedings in South Africa.

How does one choose a good divorce lawyer?

Everyone differs in what type of attorneys suits them. For instance, do they want an attorney who will parent them or an attorney who will partner with them? Naturally, there are other variables to consider as well, like reputation, credentials, experience, and background. Getting references from contacts a person knows and trusts, especially from one’s accountant, business attorney, estate planning attorney or therapist, is the best way to find a good divorce attorney.

Does the end of a marriage have to turn into a battle?

“No, it does not,” Bertus Preller said. However, there often is some battle over one issue or another-like the division of property or who gets custody of the children. It is normally the battles over control in one area or another that precipitated the divorce in the first place. If a couple could not get along during the marriage, often the divorce is simply an amplification of those problems. “I tend to try to follow a more collaborative approach in dealing with divorce matters, and consider a number of ways to settle issues, whether through mediation or negotiating the best possible outcome for the client. We tend to see a number of ill experienced mediators offering services such as divorce mediation, offering a quick break with less emotional trauma and less costs. This may be a good option, but the reality is that mediation can be more expensive than an uncontested divorce; the other problem is that some mediators have absolutely no understanding of the legal consequences of the patrimonial issues of the divorce. You simply can’t mediate a divorce with a degree in psychology when there are legal issues involved and it frequently happens that one party is in fact at the end of the day in a much worse position”.

How can parents minimise the affect of divorce on their children?

“They can and should leave the children out of their immediate battles at all times,” Bertus Preller said. “Whether during the divorce process itself or long after it has ended. Spouses have no right bringing children into the differences that they have with each other. They should also give the children support and understanding throughout the divorce trauma and always show the utmost respect to the other spouse no matter how hard that may seem.”

How do courts determine the distribution of assets if one spouse is a stay at home parent or earns substantially less than the other?

In a marriage in community of property, it is important to establish the net value of the communal estate at the date of divorce. Then one can establish what each party is entitled to. Often, spouses can’t agree on a division on the joint estate and a Receiver or Liquidator needs to be appointed to divide the assets. When a marriage in community of property dissolves through divorce, each spouse is entitled to 50% of the joint estate, which includes the parties’ pension benefits.

In a marriage out of community with accrual, an auditor often needs to be appointed to determine the accrual. Preller said however he’s been involved in a number of divorce matters where extremely wealthy people were married in community of property. They may not have received the proper legal advice, “or became so focussed on the wedding ceremony that they forget about the consequences of a failed marriage.

We’re getting divorced because my spouse cheated on me. How do I make him/her “pay” for this mistake?

“Seeking vengeance is never the answer,” Bertus Preller said. “There is an old Spanish proverb: ‘Living well is the best revenge,’ is what the injured party should focus on and strive for. There is no win in trying to make someone pay for any betrayal in a marriage. However, in terms of South African law an aggrieved spouse is able to claim compensation against a third party who was the cause of the divorce.

I’m trying to be reasonable, but my spouse and I just can’t agree on major issues like who gets custody of the kids or who should keep the house. What should I do?

“Seek the advice of your attorney,” Bertus Preller said. “A mediation session might help with a respected attorney. This is what you pay your attorney to do: resolve major issues and help you come to reasonable solutions. If all else fails you may have to take your case to court and have the judge decide, but this is not always the best possible way, settlement soon in the proceedings is always the best outcome for everyone”

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 Bertus Preller & Associates 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 father’s rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.

Parental Alienation Disorder


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.

http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

Domestic Violence


Domestic Violence

It happens frequently that one parent of a child would abuse the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act to block the contact that the other parent have towards their child. This was an issue that was dealt with in the case of Narodien v Andrews 2002 (3) SA 500 (C).

The matter came before the Court for review at the request of one of the magistrates of the Cape Town magistrate’s court. The applicant and respondent were the biological parents of a boy, L, aged five, born out of wedlock. The applicant father had applied to the magistrate’s court in terms of the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 (the Act) for an interim protection order against the respondent mother. The affidavit accompanying the application had, however, contained no details of any ‘acts of domestic violence’ committed by the respondent. The parties were embroiled in a dispute concerning the applicant’s access to his son. The respondent had allegedly agreed on various occasions to allow the applicant to see the child but would not allow the child to spend an entire weekend with his father. The applicant wanted L to spend every second weekend with him from Friday 6 pm to Sunday 6 pm. The relief applied for by the applicant in the magistrate’s court was that he be granted ‘access to his son’ as stipulated.

The magistrate hearing the matter had issued an ‘interim protection order’ against the respondent. The order did not mention any acts of domestic violence but simply ordered the respondent not to prevent the applicant from having contact with his son. On the return date of the ‘interim protection order’ the respondent opposed the issuing of a ‘final protection order’. It appeared from the evidence that the respondent was unwilling to allow the child to remain with his father for an entire weekend because this would mean that he would miss out on the Sunday morning church service to which his mother habitually took him and, further, that the respondent would be unable to limit the opportunities which the child had to interact with the applicant’s family. The magistrate hearing the matter, however, confirmed the ‘interim protection order’, ordering the respondent to allow the applicant access to his son from Friday 7 pm to Sunday 4 pm every alternate weekend.

The respondent subsequently applied for the setting aside of the ‘protection order’. The magistrate hearing that application varied the previous order made by granting the applicant access to the child from 7 pm Friday to 7 pm Saturday and from 11 am Sunday to 5 pm Sunday every alternate weekend until such time as access could be determined by the High Court. The applicant had been present at court but, due to a misunderstanding, was not in court when the matter was heard. The ‘variation order’ was accordingly granted in his absence. The magistrate subsequently requested the High Court to set aside the ‘variation order’ on the grounds that the order had been incorrectly granted in the absence of one of the parties. Following upon queries by the Court as to the legitimacy of the ‘protection order’, the magistrate referring the matter for review stated that the definition of ‘domestic violence’ in the Act included any controlling or abusive behaviour towards the complainant where such conduct harmed or could cause imminent harm to the safety, health and well-being of the complainant and that the conduct complained of by the applicant in the instant matter had fallen within this definition. The magistrate stated further that the court had been satisfied that undue emotional hardship would be suffered by the applicant if a protection order were not issued immediately.

The court found that the High Court in its capacity as upper guardian of all minor children within its area of jurisdiction, however, had an inherent common-law jurisdiction mero motu to review the so-called ‘protection orders’ granted by the magistrate’s court in the instant matter, as such orders directly concerned the interests of a minor child within its area of jurisdiction.

While the concept of ‘domestic violence’ was defined very broadly in s 1 of the Act, such definition had to be placed within the context of the Act as a whole and not be viewed in isolation.

An interpretation of s 7(6) of the Act which would empower a magistrate’s court to make ‘stand-alone’ orders concerning access to a minor child in cases where the parents were embroiled in a dispute about access amounted to a radical departure from the relevant common-law principles and statutory provisions relating to child welfare and statutory interpretation. Such interpretation of s 7(6) of the Act could even mean, theoretically, that the magistrate’s court would have territorial jurisdiction to make orders concerning access where the High Court would have no such jurisdiction. This construction offended against the tenet of statutory interpretation that, as far as possible, statutes had to be interpreted so as not to give rise to absurd, anomalous or unreasonable results.

The mischief which s 7(6) of the Act had been meant to address was a lack of an express provision in other family violence legislation for the courts granting family violence interdicts to make ancillary orders relating to contact with minor children, so ensuring that children at risk were protected from domestic violence and that the protection of the adult applicant was not compromised by arrangements relating to contact between the respondent and any children living with the applicant. This purpose was a far cry from an interpretation of s 7(6) which would empower the magistrate’s court to make a ‘protection order’ under the Act which consisted solely of an order granting access to a minor child or regulating the exercise of such access. Orders concerning access made in terms of s 7(6) had to be ancillary to a ‘protection order’ of the kind envisaged in s 7(1) of the Act. A stand alone order as to access could not legitimately be regarded as falling within the powers vested in the magistrate’s court by s 7(1) (h).

As such it should be noted that a Domestic Violence order may be taken on review to the High Court if there are grounds to do so. To use the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act simply as a measure to block the contact of the other parent is wrong and may therefore be set aside.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

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