What often happens is a Court would order that one parent has primary care over a minor child, but that specific parent does not take on that responsibility. I

Child Custody Court Order

The Court Order says my minor child’s mother has custody, but my daughter primarily lived with me since she was a toddler. What can I do to legalise the situation? The mother is now demanding that the order now be followed – 5 years later.

At the time of a divorce or separation, the parents of a minor child would usually agree on where the minor child would primarily reside. If they cannot come to an agreement, the Court would make that decision for them. If the parents were never married, one of them may have approached the Court. This is to deal with their parental responsibilities and rights.

Parents not following Court Order

What often happens is a Court would order that one parent has primary care over a minor child, but that specific parent does not take on that responsibility. In other words, the minor child would live primarily with the parent who does not have custody. The parent who has custody would then only occasionally have contact with the minor child. This is so despite the Court Order stating that the minor child should primarily live with him or her. This becomes problematic, as the Court Order says one thing, but the parents are doing the opposite.

Parenting disagreements despite a Court Order

Should the parents come to a disagreement in the future, the parent who has primary care in terms of a Court Order may demand to exercise his or her rights as the primary caregiver. The parent who has primary care in terms of the Court Order may even threaten to take legal action to enforce the Order. This situation may be problematic as the minor child may have been living for a very long time with the non-custodial parent, enrolled in the nearby school, have friends there, etc. This would all be uprooted should the order now be followed many years later. The minor child would have to be enrolled in a new school, and furthermore, the new home may not be adequate for the minor child’s needs.

The Child Custody Court Order and its compliance

Once a Court makes an order, it should be complied with. Nothing less applies in the case of a Court order regarding a minor child. Once the minor child becomes an adult, the order basically falls away, unless they are provisions that still lives on. For example, a provision that states that child maintenance should be paid to the mother until the minor child turns 21 or is self-supporting, and so on. But should the child be a minor (under the age of 18 years old), the parental responsibilities and rights as outlined in the Court order would usually apply. Therefore, unless the Court order lapsed, it needs to be complied with.

What can a parent do under the latter situation?

The first port of call would be to have a look at the Court order and see what it obliges the parents to do in this situation. This can either be facilitation or mediation. If that fails, or no such provision exists, then making an application to the Court to vary the Order would be the appropriate remedy. This basically entails filing a Notice of Motion, attached to it, a Founding Affidavit. The Notice of Motion will state what you want. The Founding Affidavit would state the facts substantiating the relief you are looking for.

The relief sought

The relief a parent may want from the Court would be that a certain clause in the Court Order is varied. It should state that primary care is awarded to the father (or the mother as the case may be). It would further outline what contact rights the parent who had primary care in terms of the order would have. Usually, it would follow what the parties have been exercising in the past.

What would the Court decide regarding custody?

Child Custody Visitation and Contact

The Court is the upper guardian of all minor children within its jurisdiction. It, therefore, can override the wishes of the parents. However, the Court has to comply with the Constitution and the Children’s Act. Both pieces of legislation say that the minor child’s best interests must be upheld when it comes to these types of issues.

Therefore, the Court would look at all the relevant facts. It would then make a decision as to what is best for the minor child concerned. The Court would look at the Order and whether it has been complied with. Thereafter it would decide whether a change to it would be warranted. The Court is also not obliged to make an order based on what the parents in the case want. It would make a decision as to what it believes is in the minor child’s best interests.

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