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Category Archive child custody

ByOur Lawyer

Contact with his child on Father’s Day

I would love to have contact with my child on Father’s Day. Her mother is refusing me contact. What does the law say when it comes to the rights of a father?

Every year, the World celebrates Father’s Day. In 2019, it was celebrated on 16 June, coinciding with Youth Day in South Africa. It is a very special day not only for fathers but for the children concerned. When we refer to children, we are not only referring to kids or toddlers. Even grown-up children celebrate Father’s Day with their respective fathers. In some families, Father’s Day is being celebrated by three generations of offspring. This article, however, relates to Father’s Day in the context of minor children spending time with their fathers on that special day.

The Father

We will not go into the technical legality of what makes you a father. A child who has been adopted is for all intents and purposes the child of the adoptive parent. Even if the child was not adopted, or you are not the biological father of the child, if the child refers to you as a father, then the celebration of Father’s Day would apply to you. Here a specific example would be step-parents.

Now let’s move on to the issue of what rights does a father have to have contact with his child on Father’s Day. But before we can do that, we need to have a look at the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. Let us start off by looking at what the law says regarding parental responsibilities and rights of fathers. You will note that the law applies differently when it comes to married and unmarried fathers. However, the principles are the same.

Unpacking the law

The purpose of this article is to correctly outline the law applicable to the rights of fathers in relation to their children. In this case, we shall make extensive reference to the Children’s Act. A father can, therefore, have a look at the various sections of the Children’s Act, unpacked below and apply it to himself. Let us start off with a concept of parental responsibilities and rights.

Parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers

Section 20 of the Children’s Act deals with the parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers. It states:

The biological father of a child has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child—

(a) if he is married to the child’s mother; or

(b) if he was married to the child’s mother at—

(i) the time of the child’s conception;

(ii) the time of the child’s birth; or

(iii) any time between the child’s conception and birth.

 

This section is straight forward. If you were married to the child’s mother, you automatically have full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child. In short, you do not have to be married to the mother at conception.

Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers

Section 21 of the Children’s Act deals with parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers. It states:

(1) The biological father of a child who does not have parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child in terms of section 20, acquires full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child—

(a) if at the time of the child’s birth he is living with the mother in a permanent life-partnership; or

(b) if he, regardless of whether he has lived or is living with the mother—

(i) consents to be identified or successfully applies in terms of section 26 to be identified as the child’s father or pays damages in terms of customary law;

(ii) contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period; and

(iii) contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute towards expenses in connection with the maintenance of the child for a reasonable period.

(2) This section does not affect the duty of a father to contribute towards the maintenance of the child.

(3) (a) If there is a dispute between the biological father referred to in subsection (1) and the biological mother of a child with regard to the fulfilment by that father of the conditions set out in subsection (1) (a) or (b), the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker, social service professional or other suitably qualified person.

(b) Any party to the mediation may have the outcome of the mediation reviewed by a court.

(4) This section applies regardless of whether the child was born before or after the commencement of this Act.

 

The application of this section can be a bit technical. However, it seems that if a father was involved in a child’s life, he acquires parental responsibilities and rights.

 

Now let us move on to what is meant by the term “parental responsibilities and rights”.

Parental responsibilities and rights

Section 18 of the Children’s Act deals with parental responsibilities and rights.

It states the following:

(1) A person may have either full or specific parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child.

(2) The parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child, include the responsibility and the right—

(a) to care for the child;

(b) to maintain contact with the child;

(c) to act as guardian of the child; and

 (d) to contribute to the maintenance of the child.

(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), a parent or other person who acts as guardian of a child must—

(a) administer and safeguard the child’s property and property interests;

(b) assist or represent the child in administrative, contractual and other legal matters; or (c) give or refuse any consent required by law in respect of the child, including—

(i) consent to the child’s marriage;

(ii) consent to the child’s adoption;

(iii) consent to the child’s departure or removal from the Republic;

(iv) consent to the child’s application for a passport; and

(v) consent to the alienation or encumbrance of any immovable property of the child.

(4) Whenever more than one person has guardianship of a child, each one of them is competent, subject to subsection (5), any other law or any order of a competent court to the contrary, to exercise independently and without the consent of the other any right or responsibility arising from such guardianship.

(5) Unless a competent court orders otherwise, the consent of all the persons that have guardianship of a child is necessary in respect of matters set out in subsection (3) (c).

This section is extensive. However, it is clear that if you have parental responsibilities and rights in relation to a child, you would form part of the child’s life. Moreover, you would be part and parcel of important decision-making in the child’s life. With regard to Father’s Day, a father having parental responsibilities and rights in relation to a child should have contact on that special day.

As it is clear from the above, the law looks at what is best for the child. And it would be best for the child to celebrate Father’s Day with his or her father. Now let’s move on to the best interests of the child principle.

Best interests of the child

Section 9 of the Children’s Act states the following:

Best interests of child paramount.—In all matters concerning the care, protection, and well-being of a child the standard that the child’s best interest is of paramount importance, must be applied.

There you have it. The law does not look at the interest of the parents or other third parties. The law looks at what is best for the child. Now let us move on to the best interests of the child standard.

Best interests of the child standard

With regard to the best interests of the child standard, section 7 of the Children’s Act states the following:

(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 caregiver 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;

(ii) gender; (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 Children’s Act refers to a variety of factors above. At the end of the day, what is best for the child is looked at.

Definition of “Care”

Before we end this article, we feel that it is important to deal with the aspect of care in the Children’s Act. What is meant by care?

The Children’s Act defines “care” as follows:

“care”, in relation to a child, includes, where appropriate—

(a) within available means, providing the child with—

(i) a suitable place to live;

(ii) living conditions that are conducive to the child’s health, well-being and development; and (iii) the necessary financial support;

(b) safeguarding and promoting the well-being of the child;

(c) protecting the child from maltreatment, abuse, neglect, degradation, discrimination, exploitation and any other physical, emotional or moral harm or hazards;

(d) respecting, protecting, promoting and securing the fulfilment of, and guarding against any infringement of, the child’s rights set out in the Bill of Rights and the principles set out in Chapter 2 of this Act;

(e) guiding, directing and securing the child’s education and upbringing, including religious and cultural education and upbringing, in a manner appropriate to the child’s age, maturity and stage of development;

(f) guiding, advising and assisting the child in decisions to be taken by the child in a manner appropriate to the child’s age, maturity and stage of development;

(g) guiding the behaviour of the child in a humane manner;

(h) maintaining a sound relationship with the child;

(i) accommodating any special needs that the child may have; and

(j) generally, ensuring that the best interests of the child is the paramount concern in all matters affecting the child;

Conclusion on the rights of a father on Father’s Day

From the above, it is clear that the law does not discriminate between fathers that were married to the mother and those who were not. What the law is only concerned with is what is best for the child. Various factors are looked at and those are outlined above. At the end of the day if it is in the child’s best interests to have contact with the father on Father’s Day; the law would enforce it.

 

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ByOur Lawyer

I need to get divorced in 3 days. I was told it is possible. Is it really true?

Getting divorce within 3 days

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIt often happens, when a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the parties are in agreement that they have to divorce. Furthermore, the parties came to an agreement regarding the propriety aspects of the marriage, care and contact of the minor children, as well as who should pay for the cost in relation to the divorce. If all the latter has been agreed upon, there is no need for the parties to wait many months to get divorced. What this article deals with is a real-life scenario where the marriage between a couple would be dissolved in the shortest possible time. In this case, three (3) days from the date of meeting their lawyer. If you don’t feel like reading this entire article, scroll down to the bottom for an illustration of a divorce finalised in 3 (three) days.

Furthermore, it may become necessary for there to be a quick divorce. One such reason could be that a party is only visiting South Africa for a very short while and wants to resolve issues expeditiously. This would especially be so if the parties lived separately for a long time despite being married. Before we proceed with exploring and unpacking the question this article relates to, we will first have to look at certain basic requirements in order for parties to get divorced. This relates to the court’s jurisdiction, as well as the requirement that a marriage has broken down irretrievably. Another one is that they should be married. I guess we all knew that.

The jurisdiction of the divorce court

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIt does not mean that because you got married in a specific province or town that the Court situated there has the authority to divorce you. For example, if you married in Cape Town, and relocated to Johannesburg, and live there for quite some time, then Cape Town Court will not necessarily have the jurisdiction to divorce you. The same would apply should the parties have married in Johannesburg and relocated to the United States of America, and are domiciled there. Should they wish to get divorced, they cannot get divorced in Johannesburg. This is so as the Johannesburg Court will not have jurisdiction to divorce this specific couple. Now, what determines jurisdiction? Clearly, it is not the fact that you got married in the Court’s area of jurisdiction. Let’s look at the law.

The Divorce Act

Section 2 of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979 states the following:

“A court shall have jurisdiction in a divorce action if the parties are or either of the parties is-

  1.           domiciled in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the date on which the action is instituted; or
  2.           Ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the said date and have or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date.

Well, there you have it. It does not mean that if you got married within the area of jurisdiction of the court, that automatically, that Court would have the jurisdiction to divorce you.

You or your spouse should at least be domiciled, or resided within that honorable court’s jurisdiction for a specific period. When we refer to domicile, we basically mean that you intend the specific location to be your permanent home. This is a simple definition. Now let us move on to the second issue. That is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage between the parties

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIt goes without saying, a court will not divorce a couple who is happily married. There has to be some problem in the marriage. Now let’s go straight into the law and find out when, or under what circumstances a Court of law may divorce you in South Africa.

The Divorce Act

According to section 4(1) of the Divorce Act:

“A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown 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(3) of the Divorce Act then states:

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

Considering the latter law, it is clear that the marriage should have broken down irretrievably, in other words, it cannot be saved. Furthermore, it should not appear to the court that reconciliation is possible. So moving forward, presuming that the court has jurisdiction and the marriage has irretrievably broken down, we can now deal with the aspect of a quick divorce. That is why you are reading this article? We shall start with what is required in order to institute divorce proceedings.

The summons commencing the divorce action

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceAs would be obvious from the foregoing, only a court of law can dissolve a marriage. Therefore, one needs to follow the legal processes in place in order for a court to deal with your matter. In the case of a divorce, the process starts with the issuing of a summons. Basically, this is a document outlining who all the parties are and what the Plaintiff (the person instituting the divorce proceedings) wants from the court. The summons would be signed by the Court Registrar who would direct the Sherriff of the Court to serve it on the Defendant (the other party to the divorce).

It would also have attached to it, a particulars of claim, comprising of certain relevant information in order for the court and the other party to know what the reasons for the relief sought, or divorce is. This we deal with next.

The Particulars of Claim

In the case of a divorce summons, you will state who the parties are, when they got married, details of the minor children involved, and reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. With regard to the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage, you will state that for example, there is no longer any love and affection between the parties, and both parties wish to get divorced.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceThe latter information is stated in a document, called “particulars of claim”. This document is attached to the summons. The particulars of claim will then also outline the relief sought. For example, it will first state that you wish for a decree of divorce, and further what you wish in relation to care and contact in relation to the minor children, child maintenance, personal maintenance, the division of the joint estate, and who pays the legal fees. It is also wise for the parties to enter into a consent paper or settlement agreement. This we deal with next.

The Consent Paper or Settlement Agreement

You should stipulate in the particulars of claim exactly what you wish the court to grant you. However, what is a good idea, if the divorce is undefended, to enter into a consent paper or settlement agreement. This document basically outlines what the parties agree upon in relation to the divorce. It deals with child custody, maintenance, and the division of the joint estate if it applies.

The parties would sign the consent paper or settlement agreement and it would be made an order of court should the court so grant it. Therefore, if you follow this route, the court would basically make an order stating that it grants a decree of divorce, incorporating the terms of the consent paper or settlement agreement.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceThe consent paper or settlement agreement may be entered into between the parties before divorce proceedings are instituted or after. If it is done before divorce proceedings are instituted, it is usually attached to the summons. Your prayers in your particulars of claim would basically be that you ask for a decree of divorce, incorporating the terms of the consent paper attached thereto.

What happens after the summons has been issued?

Let us presume that the summons, particulars of claim and consent paper have been drafted, and all documents have been signed. It should then be taken to a court to be issued and a case number is allocated to it. The next step would be for the summons with all the relevant documents attached thereto to be served on the defendant. This would be the case even though the divorce is agreed upon.

Service of the divorce documents on the defendant would have to be done by the office of the sheriff. In other words, the sheriff would give a copy of the divorce papers to the other party, in this case, the defendant. A sheriff then provides a document called, “return of service”. Basically, it tells the court that he served the documents on the defendant.

The defendant would then have a period of ten (10) working days to decide whether or not to defend the divorce. This is stated in the summons. A reason for defending would be that he or she opposes the divorce, or don’t believe the contact arrangements are in the children’s best interests. Once the ten (10) working days have passed, the divorce may be set down for hearing.

How quick can the divorce be finalised

Continuing with the example of a friendly divorce, once the ten (10) days have lapsed, and the defendant did not file a notice of his intention to defend the divorce action, the divorce can proceed on an undefended basis. The Plaintiff or the person who instituted the divorce proceedings may then set the divorce matter down for hearing on an undefended basis. If the divorce was instituted in the Western Cape High Court, it could be set-down within three (3) days. For example, if the ten (10) days have expired, The Plaintiff may file his notice of set-down the Monday before noon with the Registrar, to be heard on Wednesday. This is explained at the end of this article.

Waiving the ten (10) ten days waiting period – The waiver

This is where this article becomes interesting. It is also possible under certain circumstances, for a defendant to file a waiver. Basically, the defendant would file a document stating that he waives his right to ten (10) days to decide whether or not he wants to defend the divorce. If a waiver is filed, and the court has no issue therewith, then the divorce can take place much sooner than ten (10) days. This we explain a bit more next.

Demonstrating a quick divorce

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceConsidering the above and, ensuring that all legal processes are in place, a divorce can be finalised very quickly and in certain circumstances, within a few days. As long as the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter and the marriage has broken down irretrievably, there is no reason why the divorce can’t take a maximum period of four weeks to finalise.

If, however, the divorce is urgent and undefended it is possible for the defendant to file a waiver advising the court that he has no issue with a divorce taking place within the ten (10) days given to him. His reason for this could also be that he and the Plaintiff entered into a Consent Paper and wants the divorce as well. In this case, the divorce could take three (3) days. This would apply in the following hypothetical example:

Monday:

  1.     Meet with the fast and efficient lawyer (or give us a call to refer you to one);
  2.     Draft the summons, particulars, consent paper;
  3.     Sign the consent paper and issue the summons;
  4.     Serve the summons on the defendant by the sheriff;
  5.     The defendant signs a waiver;
  6.     File the consent paper at the office of the family advocate for endorsement; and
  7.     Ensure the court file is in order and set the matter down before noon.

Tuesday:

  1.     Collect the endorsed consent paper from the office of the Family Advocate.
  2.     Meet with your lawyer, or one of our recommended lawyers, to prepare you for court the next day.

Wednesday:

  1.     Be at Court early.
  2.     Get divorced.

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My child is 22 years old, do I still have a legal obligation to pay child maintenance?

I need to know, when does a parent’s obligation to pay child maintenance end?

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorcePaying child maintenance, or maintaining their child, is the legal obligation of every parent. A parent does not have a choice in this matter. However, the level and standard of contribution are dependent on the means of the parent. In this article, we will look at the aspect of when does child maintenance come to an end. In this regard, we will look at two situations, one where there is a maintenance order in place and the other where there is not. However, before proceeding with those issues, let us first deal with the issue of who should pay child maintenance.

Pay child maintenance according to your means

The law expects a parent to provide child support according to their respective memes. What this entails, is that a parent should only pay what he or she can afford. Therefore, even if a child requires a huge amount of child support, if a parent cannot afford to provide, he or she will not be held responsible. Therefore, the other parent would have to support the child according to his or her means. In applying this principle in practice, it means one parent may have to pay more child support than the other parent.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceHowever, various factors will have to be looked at. The law does not only look at your income but also at your expenses. If a father earns a substantial amount of money per month, we also have to look at his expenses in order to earn such an amount. For example, he needs to travel overseas regularly and purchase expensive electronics. Those overseas expenses and gadgets should be factored in when considering his means.

The Maintenance Order – Divorce or Maintenance Court

Many a time, parents approach the Maintenance Court for assistance in obtaining maintenance from the other parent. This process usually ends with the court making a maintenance order. This is sometimes by agreement and other times through formal processes like hearings or trials. The same is true in the case of a divorce. When the court grants a decree of divorce, it will make a maintenance order should there be minor children involved. Usually, the order will stipulate until when maintenance is payable in terms of the order. In terms of our law, a court should not grant a decree of divorce unless it is satisfied that the minor children’s interest is looked after.

 

What should the maintenance order state?

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIt is of vital importance, that when parties agree on a maintenance order, they are as simple and direct as possible. No one wants to argue over a vague maintenance order years down the line when issues arise. Therefore, although you took a day to settle a maintenance matter, you may take weeks to settle a maintenance dispute based on a simple clause. The order should specifically deal with the aspect of how maintenance should be paid, where it should be paid and until when.

The date the maintenance order lapses

If the maintenance orders state that maintenance will come to an end when the children reach the age of eighteen, then, under those circumstances, the court order will fall away when they reach that age. Another age usually stipulated in a maintenance order is the age of twenty-one. Furthermore, it is sometimes stipulated in a maintenance order that maintenance is paid until the children are self-supporting. The latter situation could become problematic as to how is it determined when a child is self-supportive. This we deal with next.

Child becoming self-supportive

Obviously, if the child moves out of the house, gets a job and pay for his or her own expenses, he or she is self-supportive. However, if the child still resides with his or her parents, but is capable of earning a reasonable income, a dispute might arise regarding whether or not the child is self-supportive. Nonetheless, the maintenance order will stand until the conditions stipulated in the order have passed. The parents would, therefore, have a legal obligation to pay the maintenance as stated in the order.

Does a maintenance order fall away when the child turns eighteen?

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceAs stated above, age does not play a role as to until when child maintenance must be paid. The fundamental issue is that of being self-supportive. Therefore, even if the order says you must pay child maintenance until the child is twenty-one years old, but at the age of eighteen the child earns a much greater salary than his or her parents, and is accordingly self-supportive, then under those circumstances maintenance is not due to the child. In such a case, the parties must agree that maintenance should not be paid. If such an agreement is not forthcoming, then the party who is obliged to pay child support should approach the court to have the order set aside.

To whom should maintenance be paid when the child turns eighteen?

Child maintenance is due to the child and not to the other parent. However many a time, a child of eighteen is still attending school and cared for by a parent. Therefore, although the child is an adult, he or she is not in a position to care for him or herself. Maintenance in terms of the court order should still be paid to the parent caring for the child. Once the child is mature enough, or he or she moved out of the home of the caregiver, he or she may then, under those circumstances, receive the maintenance directly from the relevant parent.

Can a child over the age of eighteen claim maintenance from his or her parents?

If there is no maintenance order in place, when a child turns eighteen, he or she will have to apply for maintenance from his or her parents. As the child is an adult, his or her parents cannot approach the Maintenance Court on his or her behalf. In other words, a parent cannot apply for maintenance on behalf of his or her adult child. This could become problematic, should the child, being an adult, still attend school.

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I want to relocate with my minor child. What do I need to know with regard to the law?

Relocation with your minor child from South Africa

In today’s modern times, many people decide to leave South Africa and seek employment overseas. The reason for that could be many. But usually, it’s because they feel they can earn much more in a different country. Furthermore, safety and security, and medical benefits are on the list. What often happens is one parent wants to relocate, with a child, however, the other parent has an issue with it. As you will see later, the consent of both guardians is required for a minor child to leave the Republic of South Africa.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorce

Parents need to first discuss the issue of relocation

We are often approached by the parent wishing to relocate with the minor child for legal advice. It is often the mother. She wants to know what her rights are regarding the child relocating with her. Now the ideal situation would be for both parents to sit down and discuss the issue. It would obviously have a big impact on their lives should relocation with the child take place. They should discuss aspects regarding contact and maintenance should relocation be a viable option. However, meeting eye to eye and having a sensible discussion on the issue is not always the case.

Effects of relocation on the parents

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIt often happens when parents do not agree on the issue of relocation; the parent wishing to relocate has to make some drastic decisions. Should she remain in South Africa and continue in her current employment, or remain unemployed? By remaining in South Africa, she would remain the primary caregiver of the minor child. The other option is for the parent to not fight the issue but decide to relocate and leave the child with a parent in South Africa. This could become problematic. Especially so in the case where the parent residing in South Africa was never a primary caregiver of the minor child. In other words, he or she cannot care for the child as well as the parent wishing to relocate.

What does the law say?

Now in terms of the law, if a child should be removed from the Republic of South Africa, for traveling, or relocation, he or she requires the consent of both guardians. We will not go into the finer details of who is a guardian and what are the rights of a guardian. However, in terms of the Children’s Act, both guardians should consent for the minor child to be removed from the Republic of South Africa, and his or her return. Therefore, if the parents come to an agreement that the minor child may relocate, then the consenting parent should only sign necessary consent documents. Those documents can be obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. At the same time additional assisting documents will be of use. For example, an affidavit from the father stating that he has no issue with a minor child relocating and he provides a mother with the authority to make certain decisions regarding the minor child. These decisions could relate to the enrolment of schools, medical consent, and consent to travel within the country.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceWhat happens if consent for relocation is refused?

Let’s say consent is not provided. What can the parent do under those circumstances? Unfortunately, the parent would have to approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other. He or she will have to convince the court that it would be in the minor child’s best interest for the relocation to take place. The parent who remains in South Africa will have to do the opposite. He or she would have to convince the court that it would be in the child’s best interest for them to remain in South Africa. Valid reasons could be that the country that they wish to relocate to is dangerous, or the child would be better suited to remain in South Africa.

More on approaching the Court

Now the problem arises as mentioned earlier. The parent wishing to relocate is left with a predicament. Does he or she remain in South Africa caring for the child or does he or she relocate and leave the child behind if consent is not given. As stated earlier, he or she would have to approach the Court. All these factors will have to be ventilated before the court and then the court will decide what is in the minor child’s best interest.

We pause here to state that should a parent follow the specific route in approaching the court, he or she may want to at the same time apply for certain sole guardianship rights to the minor child. The parent would have to ask the court for certain rights, for example, should the minor child have to apply for a passport while overseas; only that parent’s consent is required. The same applies should the minor child have to be enrolled in a school, and as stated earlier, attend to a medical procedure.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIf the parent relocating is a mother, she can bring up a constitutional argument. She may argue that because she is a mother of the child and gave birth to the child, it is unfair for her to obtain the father’s consent under the circumstances. He, on the other hand, may decide to travel anywhere in the world and do not require the consent of the mother, because he is not the primary caregiver of the minor child.

Summary of the issue of consent

So in short, if the parties cannot come to an agreement on the relocation of the minor child to another country, the parents wishing to relocate should approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other parent. The other parent can oppose the application stating various reasons why it would not be in the minor child’s best interest for them to relocate. If that parent was not much involved in the minor child’s life and cannot care for the minor child; more than likely the court would not find in that parent’s favour. The bottom line is as stated, the court will decide what is best for the child.

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The role of a facilitator in family matters regarding children – Should he or she make legally binding decisions or directives?

The role of a facilitator in family matters regarding children – Should he or she make legally binding decisions or directives?

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceWhen parties divorce or they approached a court of law to resolve a dispute regarding a minor child, it was customary for them to appoint a facilitator should they settle the matter. Specific clauses would be inserted into consent papers and settlement agreements which the parties sign and is made an order of Court. The clauses would basically state that the parties appoint a facilitator to resolve disputes regarding the minor child and that the facilitator has certain authority and powers. Such disputes could range from one-party wanting more contact with the child or disputes regarding aspects of education, for example, which school the child goes to, or aspects regarding extramural activities. At the end of this article you would find an example of a facilitator clause.

 

A facilitator should be a suitably qualified person.  He or she does not necessarily have to be a clinical psychologist, social worker or a lawyer.  He or she should be somebody that knows family law, understands the family dynamics and is skilled in resolving issues between parties. It is therefore very important that the parties appoint a facilitator that they would feel comfortable with and one that will be compatible with their family situation.

Facilitator’s Power

It would often happen that the parties cannot resolve a dispute amicably through a facilitator.  In such a case, a decision will have to be made.  The facilitator would then have to issue a directive.  In other words, make a firm and binding decision for the parties. A further clause would then usually be inserted into the consent paper stating that the facilitator’s directive would be binding upon the parties as if it was an order of the court.  The directive of the facilitator would then remain binding upon the parties unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders otherwise.  It is this latter aspect that this article deals with.

 

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIntroduction of the Facilitation Clause

Based on our history with family law matters, this specific facilitation clause came about in or about 2008, a short while after the Children’s Act came into operation. It was then customary for parties to insert this facilitation clause as a matter of course. In our experience, the family advocate’s office would insist that such a clause be inserted and furthermore the courts would have no issue therewith.

 

Limiting the power of the Facilitator

What has now happened since 2018, in the Western Cape at least, was that certain judges started having an issue with the fact that a facilitator had the authority of making binding decisions on the parties which had the effect of an order of Court. In other words, due to the clause stating, that the facilitator’s directive would be binding upon the parties as if it was an order of Court; certain judges began to question such authority.

 

The court’s reasoning

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceBasically, the court’s reasoning is how could judicial authority be delegated to a third party? Taking it one step back when, the courts in the past made an order incorporating the settlement agreement, which had a clause therein authorising the facilitator to make binding directives; it basically gave judicial authority to the facilitator. In other words, the facilitator had the authority of a Judge.

 

What has now become a practice, should a facilitation clause be inserted into a settlement agreement, the office of the Family Advocate of Cape Town, at least, would endorse the Consent Paper or Settlement, Agreement but also direct the Court to determine whether or not the parties understand the role of the facilitator and that they would be responsible for the cost associated therewith.

 

The Family Advocates Reasoning

There could be many reasons why the Family Advocate is directing the parties to advise the court whether or not they understand the role of the facilitator. One such reason could be that they do not want parties to come to them to facilitate disputes and issues that might arise. And of course, the other reason could be due to the court judgments that recently stated that a court can’t delegate its authority to a facilitator.

 

In our view, asking a party in court, whether or not they understand the role of a facilitator, and that they will be responsible for the cost thereof is unnecessary. The party would say that they understand the role and that they are responsible for the cost thereof. What value that has in the case of a dispute arising in the future is very little.

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The future role of the facilitator

Going forward, we still recommend that a facilitation clause be inserted in settlement agreements and consent papers. We further agree that a Court cannot delegate its judicial authority to a third party, unless in exceptional circumstances. However, at the same time, we feel that the facilitator could play a crucial role in resolving disputes between the parties.  Having said that, the parties need to discuss whether or not they would require a facilitator, and in the event they do, they should specifically outline the role of their intended facilitator in the consent paper or settlement agreement.

An example of a neutral facilitation clause

  1. FACILITATOR
    • A facilitator shall be appointed by the parties jointly to facilitate and assist in resolving disputes between the parties relating to the minor children;
    • These disputes shall include contact disputes should one party feel that contact should be increased or decreased, or varied for either party;
    • In the event of the facilitator being unable to continue as facilitator, then he/she shall appoint a facilitator in his/her place, alternatively, or should the parties be unable to agree on the appointment of a facilitator or replacement facilitator, such facilitator or replacement facilitator as the case may be shall be appointed by the chairperson for the time being of FAMAC (Western Cape);
    • The facilitator shall be entitled in his/her sole discretion to appoint such other person as may be necessary in order to make a decision in respect of the issue in dispute, including the right to co-opt a facilitator or the assistance of an appropriate expert if he/she deems it appropriate or necessary; and
    • The cost of sessions with the facilitator and the services of the expert shall be shared equally between the parties unless otherwise directed by the facilitator. Each Party shall, however, be liable for the facilitator’s costs incurred attendant upon such party’s written and telephonic communications with the facilitator.

 

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International Family Law matters, applicable to South Africa – Divorce, Child Custody, Maintenance

International Family Law matters, applicable to South Africa

Divorces are not only limited to people living in the same country. Often, you will find that one spouse lives in South Africa and the other in a different country. They want to get divorced but do not know how to go about it. The question now is, which country and which court should divorce them? We regularly receive these types of queries from people living in the Middle East and the United Kingdom.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceThe same problem arises in the case of parents living in different countries, but there are complications regarding contact and access to their minor children. Let’s say, one parent, lives in Cape Town and the other in Taiwan. How does the parent living in Taiwan enforce his contact rights to his child in South Africa? Does he or she approach the court in Taiwan? Or should he or she approach the Court in South Africa?

And Lastly, there is an issue regarding child maintenance. What happens in the case where one parent lives in Cape Town and the other in New York? How does child maintenance work? Can the parent living in Cape Town with the children obtain a maintenance order against a parent in New York? This article will deal with the above three topics. Read on to learn more.

South Africans living abroad

South African expatriates are found all over the world. These include the following places:

  • The United Kingdom
  • United States of America
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Taiwan
  • New Zealand
  • Japan
  • India
  • Brazil
  • China

Whatever the destination and/or location is, this article would be a useful read. Especially so if you find yourself in an international family law dispute.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceWe regularly receive enquiries and requests for legal advice and/or assistance from people who have a legal connection to South Africa, but do not live here. This may include an intended divorce, where one of the spouses reside in South Africa, or a child contact issue, where a parent would like to have contact with his or her child living here.

With the advances in technology, providing advice and assistance to clients abroad becomes very easy, and convenient. There is Skype, WhatsApp Video, FaceTime, to mention a few that can bridge the communication gap. But for now, let us deal with the legal issues involved and fly away with divorces.

I live in the United Kingdom, and want to divorce my spouse living in Cape Town

Many people believe that because they got married in South Africa, any court in South Africa can divorce them. Or because they lived in Cape Town, that the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town can divorce them, even though they live in London at present. That is not the case. You will see why not. The issue is that of the Jurisdictional authority of the relevant Court.

Jurisdiction of the Divorce Courts in South Africa

Section 2(1) of the Divorce Act, states the following when it comes to the Court’s Jurisdiction:

“A court shall have jurisdiction in a divorce action if the parties are or either of the parties is-

(a) domiciled in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the date on which the action is instituted; or

(b) ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the said date and have or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date.”

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So, as you can see, you need to have fulfilled one of those latter requirements. Therefore, if you and your spouse moved to England, to settle there, you may not get divorced in Cape Town if the marriage broke down. This is so even though your marriage took place in Cape Town and you own property there. If, however, the husband lives in England, and the wife in Cape Town and she is resident there, then the divorce is possible in Cape Town. Now let us move on to other family law related matters. We will tackle the issue of child contact next.

I live in the United States of America, and I am not allowed to have contact with my child living in Cape Town, South Africa

It often happens that parents would have a relationship and bring a child into this world. The relationship deteriorates, and one parent then moves and relocates to another country. In our experience, this is usually work related. Everything would seem to go well until the relocating parent has problems exercising contact with his or her child in South Africa. The challenge for the parent that relocated is the distance. He or she is not able to pop into the child’s home should they not answer the phone or visit the children at school should he or she not be able to get hold of them.

Luckily, in this case, because the children are living in a specific province, for example, the Western Cape, the parent who relocated can have his or her attorney approach the Court locally to enforce his or her rights.

So, for example, let’s say in this case, the father relocated, he can enlist the services of an attorney in Cape Town to make an Urgent Application to the Western Cape High Court for an Order for immediate telephonic, or video contact. An Application in the Children’s Court would be problematic as he would have to be present at the Court. This, of course, would not be an issue if he is willing to fly down for each of the Court hearings.

The Court would then hear the matter and decide what is best for the children involved. If it would be best for them to have telephonic and/or video contact with the father on a regular basis; the court would then make the appropriate order. The party can also consider incorporating a clause which would entail the minor children traveling to him overseas.

How to claim child maintenance for my children if the other parent lives in New York

International child maintenance is always a complicated issue. This is so as the parent who is supposed to pay maintenance is out of the country. For this very reason, a parent living in South Africa will have to make use of international law.

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The parent will approach the maintenance court in South Africa who in turn will approach the court in the country where the parent who is supposed to pay maintenance lives. We will not go into detail in this article on how exactly the process works. However, it basically entails a court making an order in Cape Town and then later having it registered in the foreign country. The applicable legislation is the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders Act 80 of 1963.

The reverse also applies. Let’s say a parent lives in California and requires maintenance from a parent in South Africa. Then the same process would be applied. The parent would make an application for a maintenance order in California, and then have it registered in Cape Town. The Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders Act 80 of 1963 would also apply to South Africa. If this is applicable to you, we advise that you approach your local maintenance court as soon as possible.

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Child Custody, Maintenance, Divorce, Relocations and other Questions and Answers

Child-Custody-Divorce-Maintenance Relocation

Child Custody, Divorce, Maintenance and Relocation Questions, and Answers

Child Custody, Maintenance, Divorce, Relocations, and other Questions and Answers

 

 

Our Lawyer (Pty) Ltd provides professional legal advice to their clients through the following options:

  • Face to Face (At our location in Cape Town);
  • Telephonic (We call you on the South African Landline / Mobile number provided);
  • Video (We make use of Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp Video Call)

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceIf however, you have a quick and simple family law advice question you wish to ask, feel free to post it below. There would, therefore, be no need to set-up a consultation and pay a fee.

 

The question may relate to any of the following:

  • Child Maintenance;
  • Child Custody;
  • Divorce;
  • Relocation of minor children;
  • Change of minor children’s surname;
  • Guardianship rights;
  • Passport consent issues;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Parenting Plans;
  • and so on.

 

Useful family law Articles

Below are a few useful articles written by us.

Child Relocation, Passports, Custody, Surname Change, and the High Courts – Simplified

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceWhat does Child Relocation, Passport disputes, Custody issues, and surname changes have in common? They are all matters which a court of law resolves if the parties cannot do so. Other than child custody issues that can be resolved by the Children’s Court, disputes in relation to Child Relocation, Passport Disputes and Surname changes for minor children are dealt with in the various Provincial High Courts in South Africa where the child ore parties reside. Click here to read more…

Amendments to the Maintenance Act – Final Changes that took place in 2018 – Know your rights

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Parents have a legal obligation to maintain their children. The same applies to spouses who have to maintain each other, and so on. This obligation should be exercised naturally. In other words, even if a parent did not know of the law enforcing child support, he or she should have a natural inclination to do so. Unfortunately, the true reality is that it is not the case. Countless parents are taken to the maintenance court every year due to not supporting, or inadequately supporting their children. And to be fair, there are parents who abuse the maintenance process who takes the parent to court who is already adequately contributing. Now, for the maintenance enforcement process to function, working mechanisms need to be in place. This is where the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998, and the Maintenance Amendment Act, 9 of 2015 come into play. Read on to learn more. Click here to read more…

Child Maintenance Saga: How a mother forced the father of her child to pay child maintenance after battling for 5 years

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceMaintenance Saga: When Jill was 17 years old, she met Jack. He was much older than her, working, and very charming. Jill was in her final year of high school and in love with Jack. One thing led to another, and Jill fell pregnant with his child. When she told Jack the good news, he asked her to have an abortion. She refused. Jack was then out of the picture and nowhere to be found. She did not know where he stayed, nor did she have his work details. All she had was his mobile number. This number was useless as he blocked her. The furthest thing from her mind at the time was the issue of child maintenance. Click here to read more…

Paternity disputes and Scientific DNA Testing in Child Legal Matters

Paternity disputes are not uncommon in our courts of law. What sparks them varies, however, all disputes are messy. For one, the mere allegation that he is not the father of the child may directly or indirectly affect the dignity of the mother, and that of the child. In other words, it is suggested that she had more than one sexual partner at the time, and the child was born from such a relationship. Nonetheless, the issue can speedily be resolved through scientific DNA testing. Click here to read more…

Victory for Muslim Marriages in South Africa – Court gives the State 2 (two) years to enact legislation

On 31 August 2018, the Western Cape High Court handed down a ground-breaking judgment. In effect, it Orders the State to prepare, initiate, introduce, enact, and bring into operation, diligently, and without delay, legislation to recognise Muslim marriages. The High Court gave the State exactly two (2) years to attend to the latter process. This two (2) years would only be suspended if the matter is taken to the Constitutional Court. However, should the matter not be taken to the Constitutional Court for final determination, and the State does not enact the legislation, then by default, Muslim marriages may be dissolved in accordance with the Divorce Act 70 of 1979. Therefore, it is up to the State to action matters urgently. Click here to read more…

Passport Applications for minor children: What you need to know – Department of Home Affairs – Questions  and Answers

Should you require any advice on an application for a passport of a minor, where the co-parent refuses to consent or co-operate;  feel free to set up a consultation with us. You may call 0214243487 or click here to do it online.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceLeaving South Africa, and visiting another country is something many people do on a daily basis. The reason, therefore, could either be for a holiday, business, a death in the family, and so on. Or it might be to relocate to another country to start a new life, either alone, or with your spouse or children. Whatever the reason is, you require a passport when leaving South Africa. For an adult, all you need to do is visit your nearest Department of Home Affairs Offices, with proof of identity, and the prescribed fees, and take your picture, fingerprints, etc. However, if you are a minor child, under the age of 18, it is not that simple. You would need to go with both your parents, and they need to provide their consent. Click here to read more…

Father battles for 3 years to finally see his child. This he did with the help of a social worker, lawyer and the court. He now has regular contact with his child.

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceCustody, Contact, and Guardianship are parental responsibilities of all parents. Once the child is born, both parents not only have a right but a duty to form part of a child’s life. This is also the right of the child. Therefore, a parent cannot deny the other parent from exercising his or her parental responsibilities and rights. The Courts have a duty to ensure that a child’s best interests are met when approached. It is therefore of paramount importance that parents ensure that parental responsibilities and rights are exercise and enforced where necessary. This includes the responsibility of paying child maintenance. Click here to read more…

 

 

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Child Relocation, Passports, Custody, Surname Change and the High Courts

Passport Application fro a Minor Child where father cannot be found or does not give consent.

Child Relocation, Passports, Custody, Surname Change and the High Courts

Child Relocation, Passports, Custody, Surname Change, and the High Courts – Simplified

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceWhat does Child Relocation, Passport disputes, Custody issues, and surname changes have in common? They are all matters which a court of law resolves if the parties cannot do so. Other than child custody issues that can be resolved by the Children’s Court, disputes in relation to Child Relocation, Passport Disputes and Surname changes for minor children are dealt with in the various Provincial High Courts in South Africa where the child ore parties reside.

Much has been written in this website regarding child custody, relocation of minor children, and passport disputes. They have however not been dealt with simultaneously in one article. This is what this article intends to do. It basically provides the intertwined application of the law. With the rise in relocation and disputes regarding care and contact in South Africa, this article would be useful for many parents.

However, if you wish to view some of the articles already written on the aforementioned topics, feel free to click on the following links:

– Minor children born out of wedlock – Whose surname should they have?

– Passport Application for my child. I cannot find the father to give consent at the Department of Home Affairs

Child Custody – Articles and Posts

Relocate with the minor child. Parent Refusing Consent for a Passport

Popular relocation countries for South Africans

If you wish to emigrate from South Africa, there are many places in this world to consider. Some would be more ideal than others. But it all depends on the reason for the relocation. Here is a list of the top countries South Africans and emigrating to:

  • United Kingdom (UK)

  • Australia

  • United States of America (USA)

  • New Zealand

  • Canada

  • Angola

  • Botswana

  • Chile

  • Zimbabwe

  • Germany

  • Netherlands

  • Swaziland

  • Israel

  • Portugal

  • Mozambique

  • Ireland

  • Malawi

  • Switzerland

  • Namibia

  • Greece

If you intend to relocate to a country or region not mentioned above, read on, this article still applies to you.

The Child’s Best interests – A Constitutional Right

You guessed it, this article will commence with the fundamental principle in our law – the child’s best interests. This principle is an international principle, applied all over the world. Locally, the principle is found in our Constitution, Act 108 of 1996 and in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. Let us unpack it.

Section 28 (2) of our Constitution states that “[a] child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”

Furthermore, section 9 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 states that “[i]n all matters concerning the care, protection, and well-being of a child the standard that the child’s best interest is of paramount importance, must be applied.”

There you have it. The golden thread that should weave through every matter, application or dispute when it comes to children is – priority should be given to their best interests. Of course, this makes sense. Children are our future and a vulnerable sector of our society. Parents are the ones with the issues, and the children are innocent bystanders affected by all this noise. The law and society should, therefore, ensure that they are protected and given the best deal in the equation. Now let us move on to the topic of child custody, followed by passport applications, and then relocation. Lastly, we deal with surname changes of minor children.

Child Custody Disputes

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceThis is where the disputes usually begin. However, not many parents understand the concept of child custody. The legal term now used for custody is care. This was introduced in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. However, for the sake of ease, we shall continue to refer to it as custody in this legal article. We receive many queries where a parent is actually primary caring for the child, but still, want “custody” over the child. The reality of the matter is that that parent already has “custody” over the child as the child is primary living with him or her. What such parent most probably want is a court order confirming that. The reason for that varies but is mostly for stability and peace of mind.

The reason for dealing with child custody is that it has a direct bearing on disputes regarding relocation, passport applications, and surname changes. It is usually the parent who is exercising primary care who approaches us regarding the latter issues. They would want to relocate, apply for a passport or change the minor child’s surname, but the other parent does not want to consent.

Obviously, it is possible for a parent who does not have the primary care to want to try and relocate with a child. This would hold water if it would be in the child’s best interests. And if the child does not have a passport, the non-custodial parent may want to make an application to the court to dispense with the other parent’s consent. And with relocation, changing a child’s surname to that of the parent who the child will be relocating with, may be a good idea. Now let’s have a look on the legalities of a passport application, relocation and a surname change for a minor child.

Passport Application for minor children

Our starting point is our Constitution. It affords everyone the following rights:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of movement;
  • Everyone has the right to leave the Republic;
  • Every citizen has the right to enter, to remain in and to reside anywhere in, the Republic; and
  • Every citizen has the right to a passport.

As mentioned earlier, the usual scenario is that a parent who has “custody” over the minor child would like to leave the country with the minor child. This can be for a holiday, or to visit a family member. This is the easy one, as the law affords every citizen the right to a passport. However, the unfortunate issue is that according to section 18(5) of the Children’s Act, all guardians of a child must consent for a minor child’s passport application. However, let’s say the child was born out of wedlock, the unfortunate issue is that the Department of Home Affairs has no idea if the father has guardianship or not. Therefore, it seems that they always ask for the father’s consent.

Now, if the other parent does not want to visit the Department of Home Affairs to give the necessary consent for a passport, an application would have to be made to the Court as provided for in section 18(5) of the Children’s Act. This would be to dispense with the requirement that the co-guardian’s consent is required.  The Court would make a decision as to what is in the child’s best interests. In our view, considering the relevant sections in the Constitution mentioned earlier, such an application would more than likely be successful.  Now let us move to relocation which is almost never straightforward.

Relocation of minor children

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorceThere are many reasons why a parent needs to relocate to another country. One reason could be for better employment opportunities. The other reason could be due to marriage. If you have a child, you would want to take the child with you. Relocation is never an easy legal issue. For one, it means that a parent who regularly had contact to his or her child, would not only see the child via electronic means only, for example, Skype Video, but only physically, every few years.

As mentioned earlier on, what the law looks at is what is in the child’s best interests. This is a difficult task for all concerned. For one, if the other parent refuses to consent, the court would then have to override such consent. But if the court does not do so, the question is, would the child be better cared for by the non-custodial parent. That is most probably the argument that the non-custodial parent would bring to the table. “The child must stay in South Africa, and I will look after her”.

At the end of the day, after the court heard the arguments for the mother, and the father and all the experts involved, if any, the court would have to make the decision as to whether relocation with the parent would be in the child’s best interest. Deciding factors would be better living conditions and education for the minor child. Each case is different. But as always, what is best for the child would win the day.

Surname changes of minor children

Surname changes for minor children can be a bit tricky. Firstly, the Department of Home Affairs would require both parents to consent to any change. However, the decision is left up to the Director-General of Home Affairs to make that decision. A good reason for a surname change of a minor child is that he or she does not have the surname of his or her primary caregiver. Due to the fact that the minor child does not have the surname of the primary caregiver, issues could arise at school, when traveling, or socially. In such a case, a change of the minor child’s surname may be warranted.

If the other parent does not consent to the application for a surname change, then the Court needs to be approached. The Court would have to decide whether or not the other parent is reasonable in their refusal and acting in the child’s best interests. If it is in the child’s best interest that an application for a surname change is made, then the Court would order it.

Way forward

If you require any advice on any of the aforementioned issues, feel free to contact us to set up a consultation.

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Minor children born out of wedlock – Whose surname should they have?

Children born out of wedlock – The issue of whose surname the minor child should have

advice-child-maintenance-child-custody-divorce

Children born out of wedlock – let us have a look at the law when it comes to their surname, and changes to it. In the ideal world, a couple falls in love, gets married, and then bring a child into this world. However, since the beginning of time, this was not always the case. History has many stories of children who were born out of wedlock. This is more prevalent this modern day as many couples decide to start a family, without nuptials. Then there is the other extreme where a child is conceived through a brief encounter and then the parties continue with their own paths in life.

The law and society also treat children born out of wedlock differently. This has changed to an extent where neutral terms are being used. Words like “illegitimate” and so on are used to refer to such innocent children whose fate was laid down by their parents. The law and society were so extreme, that even children born from religious marriages, which were not recognised as valid civil marriages were also referred to as “illegitimate”. It is however still shocking that the South African law we refer to later, still uses the term “illegitimate child”.

Nonetheless, a beautiful innocent child is born, and then the issue of whose surname he or she should have has arisen. This is what this article addresses. Whose surname should a child born out of wedlock have, according to the law? And further, can such a surname be legally changed later?

 Issues in relation to a surname of  minor children born out of wedlock

This article deals with two issues in relation to a surname of a child born out of wedlock. The first is whose surname a child born out of wedlock should have according to the law? This is an important issue. There are a few scenarios that come to play. One where the parties lived together and planned on having the child and intend to marry or live together indefinitely. In such a case, maybe the child should have the father’s surname.

Then there is the other situation, where the mother and the father of the child had a short intimate relationship, and he wants the child to have his surname. This could be complicated as he may never form part of the child’s life but wants the child to have his surname. This we refer to as an ego or vanity reason.

And the second issue this article deals with is what the law says regarding a change to the surname of a child born out of wedlock. This is also an important issue as, sometimes, the father of a child born out of wedlock is the one who cares for the child and invests most of his life in the child. Situations can arise where it would be expedient for him to have primary care over the child and for the child to have his surname. We will look at this issue in more detail below. Now let us look at the law.

Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

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When it comes to issues of name, surname, details of the father on the birth certificate and so on, we refer to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992. What this Act says, is that within 7 (seven) days of the birth of the child born out of wedlock, or any child for that matter, notice of his or her birth must be given to the Department of Home Affairs in the prescribed manner. It further says that if the parents are married, then the child would have the father’s surname. However, that is not the case for children born out of wedlock as you will see later.

The Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992 unfortunately still uses the term “illegitimate child”. But let’s have a look at it anyway.

Section 10 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

Section 10 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992 is entitled “Notice of birth of illegitimate child”. It states the following:
“10. (1) Notice of birth of an illegitimate child shall be given –
(a) under the surname of the mother; or
(b) at the joint request of the mother and of the person who in the presence of the person to whom the notice of birth was given acknowledges himself in writing to be the father of the child and enters the prescribed particulars regarding himself upon the notice of birth, under the surname of the person who has so acknowledged.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), the notice of birth may be given under the surname of the mother if the person mentioned in subsection 5 (1 )(b), with the consent of the mother, acknowledges himself in writing to be the father of the child and enters particulars regarding himself upon the notice of birth.”

Explanation of section 10 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

Section 10 says that if the child was born out of wedlock, he or she should have the surname of the mother. However, if both the mother and father agree, then the child can have the surname of the father. Now, this is what the law says, and what would probably happen in life should the mother and father be on good terms when the child’s name is registered. However, what can the father do if later he wants the child to have his surname? In that case, we have to look at a different section of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992. And that is section 25 of the Act.

Section 25 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

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Section 25 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992 deals with the alteration of the surname of a minor. Unfortunately, in that section, the word “illegitimate minor” is still used. The sections state the following:

“25. (1) When-
(a) the birth of any illegitimate minor has been registered and the mother of that minor marries any person other than the natural father of the minor;
(b) the father of any minor is deceased or his parents’ marriage has been dissolved and his mother remarries or his mother as a widow or divorcee resumes a surname which she bore at any prior time;
(c) the birth of any illegitimate minor has been registered under the surname of his natural father; or
(d) a minor is in the care of a guardian,

his mother or his guardian, as the case may be, may apply to the Director-General for the alteration of his surname to the surname of his mother, or the surname which his mother has resumed, or the surname of his guardian, as the case may be, and the Director-General may alter the registration of birth of that minor accordingly in the prescribed manner: Provided that the man who married the mother of a minor mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b), shall grant written consent for the alteration.
(2) Any parent or any guardian of a minor whose birth has been included under a specific surname in the population register, may on the strength of a reason not mentioned in subsection (1), apply to the Director-General for the alteration of the surname of the minor under which his birth was registered, and the Director-General may, on submission of a good and sufficient reason given for the contemplated alteration of the surname, alter the said original surname accordingly in the prescribed manner.
(3) For the purposes of this section “guardian” includes any person who has in law or in fact the custody or control of a minor.”

Explanation of Section 25(1) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

Section 25 (1) provides for the situation where the minor can have his or her surname change. Most of the reasons mentioned sound logical. However, what happens in the case of a father wanting to change the child’s surname to his surname and the child was born out of wedlock? Well, in that case, section 25 (2) comes with an answer.

Section 25 (2) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992

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According to section 25(2), the father of the illegitimate child can make an application to the Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs for the change of the minor child’s surname born out of wedlock. However, if the mother is still alive, both parents must consent to the application. If, however, the mother does not consent to it, the father would have to make an application to the High Court to dispense with the mother’s consent and for the Director-General to apply their mind without the consent of the mother.

Court Application in relation to a surname of a child born out of wedlock

Should there be an application to Court, as just mentioned, the Court would have to look at what is in the best interests of the minor child. Various factors would be looked at. It is however suggested that ego reasons should not be the justification for making the application. In other words, the father wants the child to have his surname solely due to him being the father, even though the mother cares for the minor child.

 

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ByOur Lawyer

Paternity Disputes and Scientific DNA Testing – Children Matters (Maintenance and Custody)

Paternity disputes and Scientific DNA Testing in Child Legal Matters

Paternity disputes are not uncommon in our courts of law. What sparks them varies, however, all disputes are messy. For one, the mere allegation that he is not the father of the child may directly or indirectly affect the dignity of the mother, and that of the child. In other words, it is suggested that she had more than one sexual partner at the time, and the child was born from such a relationship. Nonetheless, the issue can speedily be resolved through scientific DNA testing.

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Paternity – Legal Settings

There are two common legal settings where a parent (or alleged parent) would dispute paternity. The one would be in a child maintenance dispute, where the father alleges that he is not the biological father of the child, and therefore cannot be ordered to pay child maintenance. The other situation would be in a child custody or visitation dispute. Here the mother would allege that the man is not the father, or he denies paternity.

Paternity Dispute Scenarios

There are other scenarios where paternity can become an issue. One would be in the case of inheritance. A parent would allege that a child is an heir of the person who passed on. Another would be in the case of marriage. What happens if there is a rumour your intended bride is your half-sister? These disputes and many others can only be resolved with DNA or scientific testing. Below we further deal with the question as to whether a court can force a parent and a child to submit to a blood test. That is where It gets interesting. The latter scenario laid the seed for researching and writing this post.  Read on to learn more. You may learn something new.

 

The legal presumption of pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant

Now let’s start with the common law. There is a phrase or common law presumption, “Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant”. It is a Latin phrase which states that the father is he who is married to the mother. In other words, if the child was born whilst the father was married to the mother, it is presumed that he is the father.

Therefore, unless the father or mother can prove otherwise, every child born from a marriage is presumed to be the child of the husband. If the husband or wife disputes it, they must prove it. This may become an issue during divorce proceedings. The wife may allege that the husband is the father of the child and claim maintenance from him. He would then in his plea state that he is not the father and accordingly not responsible to pay child support. At the divorce trial, he would have to prove that he is not the father. A simple way of resolving the dispute would be through a blood test or scientific DNA testing.

Now let’s move on to written law, in legislation and learn some more.

 

The Law on paternity disputes in relation to minor children

There are two pieces of legislation that applies in relation to paternity issues regarding minor children. It is the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998, in relation to child maintenance matters, and the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, in relation to child legal matters in general. We shall, however, start with the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

 

The Children’s Act – Paternity Disputes

The Children’s Act has two (2) sections dealing with paternity issues. The first deals with the Presumption of paternity in respect of a child born out of wedlock and the other, the refusal to submit to the taking of blood samples. We quote them next.

Section 36: Presumption of paternity in respect of a child born out of wedlock

“If in any legal proceedings in which it is necessary to prove that any particular person is the father of a child born out of wedlock it is proved that that person had sexual intercourse with the mother of the child at any time when that child could have been conceived, that person is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary which raises a reasonable doubt, presumed to be the biological father of the child.”

Section 37: Refusal to submit to the taking of blood samples

“If a party to any legal proceedings in which the paternity of a child has been placed in issue has refused to submit himself or herself, or the child, to the taking of a blood sample in order to carry out scientific tests relating to the paternity of the child, the court must warn such party of the effect which such refusal might have on the credibility of that party.”

Create Reasonable Doubt

Looking at the aforementioned sections of the Children’s Act, in a paternity dispute, it is presumed that if parties had sexual intercourse at any time when that child could have been conceived, the male is the father. The father can disprove this by raising reasonable doubt. This can be done by proving that he was sterile, or through scientific DNA testing. If another man comes and says he is the father; we are sure some reasonable doubt may be created.

According to the next section in the Children’s Act, if a party refuses to submit to a paternity test, it could affect his or her credibility. Therefore, if someone is truly a parent, or not a parent, and has nothing to fear from the truth, he or she should submit themselves to a blood test. Failing which, it might affect that person’s credibility in the matter. The court could then infer that he or she is lying. Now let’s move on to the Maintenance Act in child maintenance matters.

 

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The Maintenance Act – Paternity Disputes

In our experience, it is the offices of the maintenance courts that deals mostly with paternity disputes. When the father gets called to the maintenance court, to pay child support for a child he does not have a relationship with, in some cases, he would invoke the paternity defence. In other words, he would dispute the paternity of the child. In such a case, he would request a paternity test.

Section 21 of the Maintenance Act deals with orders relating to scientific tests regarding paternity. Here we quote the relevant section next.

21 Orders relating to scientific tests regarding paternity

(1) If the maintenance officer is of the opinion-
(a) that the paternity of any child is in dispute;(b) that the mother of such child, as well as the person who is allegedly the father of such child, are prepared to submit themselves as well as such child, if the mother has parental authority over the said child, to the taking of blood samples in order to carry out scientific tests regarding the paternity of that child; and

(c) that such mother or such person or both such mother and such person are unable to pay the costs involved in the carrying out of such scientific tests,
the maintenance officer may at any time during the enquiry in question, but before the maintenance court makes any order under section 16, request the maintenance court to hold an enquiry referred to in subsection (2).
(2) If the maintenance officer so requests, the maintenance court may in a summary manner enquire into-
(a) the means of the mother of the child as well as the person who is allegedly the father of the child; and
(b) the other circumstances which should in the opinion of the maintenance court be taken into consideration.
(3) At the conclusion of the enquiry referred to in subsection (2), the maintenance court may-
(a) make such provisional order as the maintenance court may think fit relating to the payment of the costs involved in the carrying out of the scientific tests in question, including a provisional order directing the State to pay the whole or any part of such costs; or
(b) make no order.
(4) When the maintenance court subsequently makes any order under section 16, the maintenance court may-
(a) make an order confirming the provisional order referred to in subsection (3) (a); or
(b) set aside such provisional order or substitute therefor any order which the maintenance court may consider just relating to the payment of the costs involved in the carrying out of the scientific tests in question.

Costs of Scientific DNA Testing in Child Maintenance Matters

Looking at the aforementioned section, it does not say much about the evidentiary aspect of paternity testing. It basically deals with the costs thereof. However, what is clear is that the Maintenance Court considers issues of paternity disputes and deals with it. Nonetheless, the aforementioned provisions of the Children’s Act would apply to matters in the Maintenance Court. Next, we move on to the issue of whether or not a court can force a party to submit to a paternity test.

Forced or Compelled Paternity Tests

The two pieces of legislation referred to above does not assist us much with regard to the issue of a court forcing a parent to submit to a paternity test. We now need to consider the case law. In other words, what do the courts have to say about this?

Most of the older court decisions, do not agree with forcing a parent to submit to a blood/paternity test. However, it seems that things have changed in the past decade. Let us refer to the judgment of LB v YD 2009 (5) SA 463 (T), a Transvaal Provincial Division matter handed down by Judge Murphy less than 10 years ago.

 

LB v YD 2009 (5) SA 463 (T).

One of the issues, in this case, was that the mother did not want to submit herself to a blood test. Her view, amongst other things, was that it was not in the child’s best interests. The father argued that it was his right to know whether or not he is the father of the child. He further argued that his right to the certainty of paternity outweighs any inconvenience that might be suffered by the mother and the child.

With regard to the law, the Court stated the following:

[18] The law on the topic of compulsory blood or DNA testing in parental disputes is not satisfactory. There is no legislation which specifically regulates the position in civil cases. Judicial pronouncements on the topic have not been unanimous in their approach to the issues and have differed on the proper legal basis for ordering tests. In relation to the child the courts have relied on their inherent jurisdiction as upper guardian, while in relation to the non-consenting adult some judges have invoked the inherent jurisdiction of a court to regulate its own procedures while others have refused to do so. In all cases the courts have been mindful of the need on the one hand to protect the privacy and bodily integrity of those to be subjected to tests, but on the other hand have asserted the court’s role to discover the truth whenever possible and to make use of scientific methods for that purpose.

 

[23] In short, I agree with those judges and commentators who contend that as a general rule the more correct approach is that the discovery of truth should prevail over the idea that the rights of privacy and bodily integrity should be respected – see Kemp ‘Proof of Paternity: Consent or Compulsion’ (1986) 49 THRHR 271 at 279 – 81. I also take the position, and I will return to this more fully later, that it will most often be in the best interests of a child to have any doubts about true paternity resolved  and put beyond doubt by the best available evidence.

 

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[47] The present case is one in which a clearing of the air is called for. Both parties have at various times admitted and denied that the applicant is the biological father. The respondent was intimate with a second party, her husband, within the period of possible conception. The child is barely 1 year old and thus there is no established relationship that might be unduly disturbed or harmed by a determination of non-paternity. If  the applicant is established to be the father, the child will benefit in time from knowing the truth and from the applicant’s commitment to her financial wellbeing. The possible stigma of a disputed paternity will also be removed. And, furthermore, legislative safeguards exist for the assignment and monitoring of appropriate parental rights and responsibilities to the applicant, should that prove permissible. I accordingly  consider that it will be in the best interests of the child that paternity be scientifically determined and resolved at this early stage.

 

[48] I agree that the order sought by the applicant is the one that should be granted. It is ordered as follows:

  1. The respondent is ordered to submit herself and her minor child Y to DNA tests for the purpose of determining whether the applicant is the biological father of the child Y within 30 days of this order.
  2. Prayers 2 and 3 of the notice of motion are postponed sine die.
  3. The applicant is ordered to pay the costs of the tests referred to in D para 1 of this order.
  4. The costs of this application are reserved.

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The numbers in the square brackets denote the number of the paragraph you would find it in the judgment should you decide to make use of it.

We agree with Judge Murphy. It is clear that the Courts can and should compel parents and children to submit to a blood test/DNA test when it is in the child’s best interests. Each case is different, and whereby a compelled blood test/DNA test would be warranted in one scenario, it may not be in the other. Nonetheless, with modern technology at our disposal, a simple paternity test is currently less intrusive than it was in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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