Child custody, guardianship and visitation (parental responsibilities and rights) – What do I need to know should I be going through a divorce or separation?
Although it is not ideal, it often happens that parents divorce or break up. Their romantic or spousal relationship may have come to an end, but their co-parenting relationship continues if they have a child together. They need to be the best co-parents possible for their child. This should be the case despite their failed marriage or relationship.
Sadly, sometimes the civility the parents had for each other does not transcend beyond their divorce or separation. Some parents in this situation have unresolved issues. It then often happens that the child becomes a victim of the conflict that ensures. They often use the child as a pawn to settle unresolved differences. This situation is not in the child’s best interest. What follows are five things that parents should know when it comes to a divorce or separation. This is especially important if there are young children involved.
Number 1: The Child’s best interests are of paramount importance.
In all matters concerning a child, his or her best interests are of paramount importance. Therefore, the law does not focus on what is best for the parents. However, the court would have to be reasonable and fair. All relevant facts must be looked at.
A parent, therefore, cannot demand that he or she has custody over the child notwithstanding the fact, that the child would be prejudiced if that happens. For example, the child would have to leave his or her current school and enrol in a new school in the middle of the academic year. The same applies to child maintenance. It does not mean that because you are paying for all the child’s expenses that you can demand when and how you wish to spend time with the child.
The sad reality is that when parents are embroiled in conflict, they are blinded from what is in the child’s best interests. They focus on what is seemingly best for them. Often, it is to win. Or get more than the other party. Therefore, the parent with the most money would employ the best of lawyers, just to show the other parent. Most times, the child loses out.
Number 2: Know your parental responsibilities and rights – Well
This one is mostly for fathers. Long gone are the days where it is assumed that only a mother can care for a child. Often the courts’ award custody or primary care to the father. The bottom line is; what is best for the child. Therefore, in a given scenario, if the mother is the one who worked from morning to dusk and the father was the one who took the child to school, collected her and attended to her homework, then in such a case, he may be awarded primary care or custody. If, however, the mother was the one who works but cared for the child since birth, she may be awarded custody.
Number 3: Don’t rush to the courts of law – This should be your last option
At the first sign of trouble, do not rush to the court. Here we refer to the Children’s Court or the High Court, concerning parental responsibilities and rights. First, try to mediate the issue. Both parents should try to meet with a social worker or family counsellor in trying to resolve issues. It is better for the parents to come up with a workable parenting plan than for the court to enforce one on them.
Number 4: Understand that there are now two households – The child cannot be divided into two.
When parents live together with a child, there is only one household. Therefore, parents will see the child every day. They would share in the child’s care, as well as his or her expenses. Spending the same time with the child after separation would be impossible. The child would have to live primarily in one home, and occasionally in the other. The focus must be in what is in the child’s best interest and not the parents. This is a reality the parents must accept and which the courts would impose.
Therefore, when divorcing or separating, try to work out together a workable parenting plan. As both parents have different work schedules and commitments, it is possible to come to a workable agreement. The parents can rotate who takes and collects the child from school. They may want to do the same when it comes to extramural activities over the weekend as well. Regular telephonic and video (Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime) contact are encouraged. This would ensure regular contact.
Number 5: Make use of a facilitator – A third party can assist the parties to see clearly for the sake of the child.
Parents don’t need to rush to court every time there is a dispute regarding the child. This practice can become very exhausting and expensive. They should appoint a facilitator to assist them in resolving the dispute. For example, should there be a wedding in the father’s family during the weekend of the mother, then if the parties cannot resolve the issue, they need to first see a professional third party
The facilitator would usually be a social worker, psychologist or even a lawyer. However, the facilitator would have to be experienced in family law and related matters to be of much worth. Either way, having a third party assist the parents in resolving the issue is always useful. It would also help them save a lot of money by avoiding litigation.
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