Divorce Attorney Cape Town

Maintenance of Children After Divorce


Child Maintenance and Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compiled by Divorce and Family Law Attorney – Bertus Preller

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 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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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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