DIVORCE – Don’t play chess by using your children as pawns
This world is rife of parents using their children as pawns in the dirty game of divorce or where children are born out of wedlock. We have all heard of the old saying “no maintenance no kids” or “you left me so you won’t see your kids”. Parents don’t realise the damage they are doing in using their children as a means to get back at the other parent.
By isolating or alienating the children from the other parent is damaging not only to the other parent but even more damaging to the children. As a family law attorney I have seen cases where one parent will go to immeasurable lengths to isolate the other parent from building a parental relationship with his/her children, thereby depriving the children in the process of the only stability they may have left.
So often you hear about the mother that lays sexual molesting charges, with no substance against the father simply in an attempt to isolate the father from having a relationship with the children or a mother obtaining a Domestic Violence interdict against a father simply to interdict the father from having a relationship with his children. Although it seems to be mostly women that play this deadly game, there are also fathers who use their children as pawns against the mother. Unfortunately in battles of this sort there are also attorneys who fuel the battles on behalf of their clients and who somehow lose sight of what the best interests of the child really means. Depriving the other parent of a relationship with his/her children is possibly one of the most devious methods to ruin a solid society.
In terms of section 33 (2) of the Children’s Act parents who experience difficulties in exercising their parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child must, before seeking the intervention of a court, first seek to agree on a parenting plan. The section discourages co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights from approaching the court as a first resort when they experience difficulties in exercising those rights and responsibilities. This section does not compel parents to enter into a parenting plan, it simply instructs them to attempt to agree on one. Looking at this section closely it seems that where one parent refuse to engage in such discussions the court may be approached for then an attempt to agree on a plan was made, even if it was doomed from the start. Section 33(5) instructs a person to seek the assistance of a family advocate, social worker or psychologist, or mediation through a social worker or suitably qualified person in preparing a parenting plan. It is therefore clear that before approaching the court, a person must first seek such assistance. If the other party is not amenable to engage then obviously a court may be approached.
Section 35 of the Act criminalises the refusal to allow someone who has access or holds parental responsibilities and rights in terms of a court order or a parental responsibilities and rights agreement that has taken effect to exercise such access. It also criminalises prevention of the exercise such access. Punishment is either a fine or imprisonment of up to one year.
About the Author:
Bertus Preller is a Divorce 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 and magazines such as Noseweek, You and Huisgenoot, and also appeared on SABC television on the 3 Talk TV show. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high networth individuals.
More and more scientific information is being accumulated about the long-term effects that a divorce has on children. Until quite recently, most of what we knew was about the immediate or the so-called short-term effects of divorce, but long-term studies are providing more insights about the effects of divorce on the formation of intimate relationships and marriages in adulthood.
The major finding that gets the most attention is the slightly increased likelihood that children of a divorce will also divorce one day.
One interesting new report on the long-term effects of divorce on intimate relationships was conducted in Finland and reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (2011). A group of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Helsinki conducted a 16-year follow-up study of 1471 teenagers in one Finnish community. Ulla Mustonen and colleagues were surveyed the intimate relationships of these adults at 32 years of age and the role that parent-child relationships may have played in their adult relationships.
In keeping with past research, they found that children with divorced parents were somewhat more likely to be separated or divorced in young adulthood. Additionally, young women whose parents divorced were also less likely to have been married. Surprisingly, parental divorce showed no predictive relationship with divorce for young men.
On the other hand, there were a number of important findings about the ways in which parental divorce really affected young women. Though parental divorce itself did have a direct effect on young women’s chances of divorce, the major effect of divorce on young women was the mother-daughter relationship in adolescence. Parental divorce tended to undermine the mother-daughter relationship; however, when a positive relationship was maintained, this resulted in better self-esteem and satisfaction with social support in young adulthood, which contributed to better intimate relationships.
This finding means that one of the key factors in fostering the long-term well-being of children of divorce is through strengthening positive parent-child relationships. For this study, a positive parent-child relationship was more important for women than men, but the importance of these adolescent relationships should not be overlooked as we think about programs and policies to foster the long-term health of children.
These findings highlight a key direction for future research on the effects of divorce on children. The mere finding that these children may be more at-risk of difficulties should no longer occupy so much of our attention. The important work is understanding the factors within relationships and family process that contribute to these outcomes and identifying opportunities to buffer the negative effects while building on the positive factors. Much progress in improving children’s well-being is possible and deserving of more attention.
Article appeared in Huffington Post
The Children’s Act offers parenting plans as a method to regulate and assist parents to agree how to exercise their parental responsibilities and rights.
Section 33(1) of the Children’s Act provides that co-holders of parental rights and responsibilities may agree on a parenting plan that sets out the method and mode of how each parent will exercise his/her rights over the children. Parenting Plans must comply with the best interests of the child standard.
It frequently happens that one parent will experience difficulties in exercising his/her parental rights, with the other parent deliberately blocking contact or frustrating it where no parenting plan exist or where a court order was made years ago that did not keep track or became outdated with the changes in our family law over the years. Where parents do struggle or where they experience difficulties to exercise these rights, mediation in terms of the Children’s Act is a prerequisite. The Act stipulates that an aggrieved parent must first seek the assistance of the Family Advocate, social worker or psychologist. Alternatively they must go to mediation facilitated by a social worker or other suitably qualified person.
The Children’s Act discourages parents from approaching the court as a first resort when they experience difficulties in exercising their rights and responsibilities. The Act use the word “must” in section 33(5) which means that parties’ are compelled to refer to seek assistance or mediation prior to embarking on court action. The Act also lays down certain guidelines concerning parenting plans, for example that it must be in writing and that it must be registered with a Family Advocate Office or made an order of court. To register a parenting plan at the office of the Family Advocate a prescribed form must be used.
Once a parenting plan is in place it may be amended, suspended or terminated. Where a plan was registered at the office of the Family Advocate the parties must apply to the Family Advocate Office to amend, suspend or terminate the plan and in the event that it was made an order of court an application should be made to court to vary the plan.
One must distinguish between Parental Responsibilities and Rights Agreements (PRR) made in terms of section 22 and Parenting Plans in terms of section 33 of the Act. PRR plans are usually entered into where a mother or other person comes to an agreement with the biological father of the child and encompass an agreement with a party that did not have rights in terms of section 21. Such an agreement confers rights and the agreement is typically between unmarried parents.
Parenting Plans on the other hand are usually entered into by co-holders of PRR Plans, the agreement delineates existing rights and an attempt to agree is a prerequisite in going to court. Typically, such a plan is entered into by divorcing parents and an unmarried father who does qualify in terms of the Act.
Section 35 of the Act contains a provision with its aim to prevent a parent from frustrating the other parent’s rights. If a person under whose care a child is refuse contact with the other parent who is also a co-holder and do so contrary to a court order or registered plan, such person could be found guilty of a criminal offence. Such person can be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year. A person, with whom a child lives, must also notify the other parent of a change of address. Failure could result in a criminal offence.
About Divorce Attorney Cape Town:
Bertus Preller is a Divorce 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 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.
Relocation of parents to another province, town or country
Relocation disputes between parents are frequent in our courts. Relocation can involve relocation to another town, province or country. Where both parents have guardianship it necessarily follows that consent from both parents will be needed when one parent decide to relocate with a minor child. It is important to note that there is no section in the Children’s Act that deals specifically with relocation. The closest that the Children’s Act gets to relocation is section 45 that deals with the jurisdiction of the court in matters where a child is removed from the Republic of South Africa.
Typically a relocation dispute will arise where one parent, normally the parent of primary residence and with whom the child usually resides decides to leave the country or the province to live elsewhere. It then usually follows that the parent who is left behind refuses or disagrees to give consent that the child leaves with the other parent. Once the other parent disagrees or refuses to give consent, the primary caregiver can approach the High Court for an order dispensing with the other parent’s consent and remove the child to another country or province. It must be noted that it is not a given that the court will automatically give its consent. The reason therefore is that the Children’s Act does not set criteria and our courts have to consider various facts and case law before it will grant an order to the other parent to move the child.
If one has regards to previous case law it is clear that our courts will only grant permission based on the best interests of the child. An important factor that the court will take into consideration is whether the decision by the parent to relocate is reasonable and bona fide and this will be part of the valuation whether the move will be in the child’s best interests. If the court does find that the plan is reasonable then obviously the court will allow the parent to move the child. It is evident to note that our courts have taken a pragmatic approach and although the move may be to the detriment of the other parent who will have less contact with the child, life must go on. Another issue that comes into play is the fact that our courts have to respect the freedom of movement of family life of relocating parents.
The following passage from the case F v F 2006 (3) SA 42 (CA) is of importance:
It is an unfortunate reality of marital breakdown that the former spouses must go their separate ways and reconstruct their lives in a manner that each chooses alone
A court must however also consider the impact that the relocation will have on the other parent who will be left behind. In looking at what is in the best interests of the child, a court should also look at whether relocation will be compatible with the child’s welfare. In F v F as sited above the court stressed the importance that it had to evaluate, weigh and balance a myriad of competing factors, including the child’s wishes in appropriate cases. In this matter the court rejected the mother’s application to relocate with her daughter despite finding that the decision to leave was bona fide. What the court found was that the practicalities of her decision to move were ill-researched and were outweighed by the child’s need not to be separated from either parent.
In the case of MK v RK case number 17189/08 in the South Gauteng High Court, the court followed a similar approach as in F v F. In this matter the child was living with the father. Here the court found that the father was thwarting attempts by the mother to rebuild her relationship with her daughter. The issues between the parties were acrimonious and the father alleged that the mother sexually abused the daughter years ago, based on these and various other factors, the court awarded custody to the father at the time the parties divorced and the child lived for several years with her father. The father then sought to relocate to Israel, although the mother initially gave her consent because she believed that she would be allowed contact with her child. She did however later withdraw her consent when she realised that this will never materialise. The court refused the relocation based on the fact that the father could not provide sufficient information when and where he would be employed, where the child would be going to school and how she would be assisted to learn Hebrew. The court also placed emphasis on the fact that it was important for the child to re-establish her relationship with her mother. What was also interesting in this case was that the court criticized the experts (psychologists) who recommended the relocation based on the fact that they did not considered all the facts and moreover that they did not considered all the evidence in making such far-reaching recommendations.
Another interesting case was that of HG v CG 2010 (3) SA 352 (ECP). This matter concerned four children whose parents were divorced. The eldest was then aged eleven and his siblings, a set of eight year old triplets, comprising two boys and a girl. In terms of the settlement agreement the parents were awarded joint custody. The intention being that the children would spend an equal amount of time with each parent and the children were spending alternate weeks with each parent.
Three years after the divorce the wife approached the High Court by way of an urgent application for variation of the custody order. In the application she 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 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 her 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. The mother’s application was dismissed and the court did not consent to the relocation as it found that it was not in the best interests of the children.
About the author:
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 father’s rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.
Rights and obligations of unmarried fathers
The facts in FS v JJ and Another 2011 (3) SA 126 (SCA) were as follows. A child, C, was born while the appellant, the father, and her mother, who died shortly after her birth, were living together. They intended to marry. The first respondent was C’s maternal grandmother, who was married to the second respondent (the grandparents). The father and grandparents had been engaged in a protracted battle for the custody of C, during which several applications were heard in the Northern and Western Cape High Courts. The present appeal was against a series of orders made by Kgomo JP in the Northern Cape High Court in terms of which custody of C was awarded to the grandparents – an order at odds with the other orders made by both the Northern and Western Cape High Courts.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) was asked to determine, inter alia, the best interests of C, the rights of unmarried fathers, and the extent of grandparents’ rights in respect of their grandchildren.
As to the grandparents’ rights and responsibilities, the court held that these were from 1 April 2010 governed by ss 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act, which governed non-parental rights to care and guardianship. Before then, grandparents had no inherent rights or responsibilities and it was only the High Court that could confer access, custody or guardianship on a grandparent if it was in the best interests of a child, which had to be assessed in the light of the rights of the biological parents.
As far as the father’s allegation of bias by the trial court was concerned, the present court held that it was clear from the conduct and language of Kgomo JP that he was biased against the father and that he had entirely failed to consider C’s best interests. Kgomo JP’s decision in ordering that C be returned to her grandparents had no basis in fact or in law, evinced bias on his part, and failed to consider the only real issue – C’s best interests.
It was clear from the various reports studied by the court that C’s best interests would be served by placing her with her father.
The High Court is the guardian of all children. However at times as seen in this case, the court was biased against the father of the child. One hears allot of father’s complain of a biased attitude that prevails in our courts. Ultimately the only issue that a court should pronounce on is whether its decision is in the best interests of the child. The interests of the parties should always be secondary to that of the child and the court as guardian of all minors should always live up to such expectation.
About the author:
Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Attorney based 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 Bertus Preller & Associates Inc. and deals with Family and Divorce matters across the country. 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 clients include celebrities, actors and actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, television presenters and various high net worth individuals. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, International Divorce Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, digital rights, media law and criminal law.
In so far as grandparents’ rights and responsibilities are concerned, ss 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act, which govern non-parental rights to care and guardianship respectively, came into operation on 1 April 2010. Before that date grandparents had no inherent rights or responsibilities and it was only a high court, as upper guardian of a child, which could confer access, custody or guardianship on a grandparent. This would be done only if it were in the best interests of a child – an assessment that must be made having regard to the rights of the biological parents.
Grandparents very often receive the fallout from their chidren’s divorces – limited, restricted or no access at all to their often beloved grandchildren. This has all changed with the New Children’s Act whose main objectives are, amongst others to:
- make provision for structures, services and means for promoting and monitoring the sound physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social development of children;
- strengthen and develop community structures which can assist in providing care and protection for children;
- promote the preservation and strengthening of families;
And calls for
- the prioritisation of the best interest of the child,
- the right to the child being able to participate in any matter concerning that child,
- a child’s right of access to court.
One of the issues covered by the new Children’s Act, is giving the right of contact and care to an interested person, in this instance the grandparent, by order of court, Children’s or High Court,
It also makes provision for any person having an interest in the care, well-being and development of a child to apply to the High Court for an order granting guardianship .
The Court In making its order, will consider and take into account:
- the best interests of the child;
- the relationship between the applicant and the child
- the degree of commitment that the applicant has shown towards the child
- the extent to which the applicant has contributed towards expenses in connection with the birth and maintenance of the child; and
- any other fact that should, in the opinion of the court, be taken into account
Compiled by Bertus Preller, Family and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller & Associates