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Fam-i-ly. A three-syllable word, that means so much. The concept of family is a very broad one and one that takes more than one form. There is the traditional form, and a more modern one. When you say “she is family”, you may be referring to your father’s cousin, a grandparent, or a niece. However, people most often referred to are those closest to you, referring to blood relations, for example, a parent or child. The most basic social unit of what a family comprises of – two parents and in most cases a child.
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However, the law now sees people as family who are not necessary married to each other in law, but who may be cohabiting as life partners, bringing a more modern concept to it. As the law recognises family relations, it therefore imposes certain rights, obligations, and certain restraints when it comes to family. For example, spouses have a legal obligation to maintain each other, and you may not marry your sibling. Another example is that of inheritance, even if you never knew you had a child, at your death, he or she would inherit from you if you die intestate, all just because, you are Fam-i-ly.
This article deals with the legal relationship between a biological father and a child.
Not all men are blessed with being referred to as a father. In order to be a father, you have to be a male parent to a child. The child must have been born from you. And therefore, every child can only have one father. However, from the moment you became a father, the law imposed certain rights and responsibilities. These responsibilities will remain until you or your child’s demise. The scope of this article is not to stipulate what a good or bad father is. It is to outline what the responsibilities and rights of a father are towards his child.
This article is inspired by the fact that many fathers who are not in a marital, or romantic relationship with the mother of his child, are refused the rights to exercise his parental rights and responsibilities towards his child. In South Africa, we have the Children’s Act 38 (Act 38 of 2005), which came into effect on 1 April 2010. Here section 10 of the Act is of use. It defines parental responsibilities and rights, which includes the right to care for the child, to maintain contact with the child, to act as guardian of the child; and to contribute to the maintenance of the child.
Fathers of children born out of wedlock does not automatically have rights towards their child. In order for you to form part of such a child’s life you need to fulfil the requirements of section 21 of the Act, which basically states:
Many fathers would have been married to the mother. Others would have meaningfully partook in the child’s life from birth. Therefore, there should generally be no difference between a child born from a marriage and a child born outside of a marriage. To take the statement further, it is possible for a father of a child born out of wedlock to be the primary care giver of the child, where the mother is only entitled to see the child at certain times and circumstances, or not at all.
The question is now posed, what is meant by this right of care and contact a father has towards his child? The Act provides a very holistic understanding of the concept of care. This includes providing the child with proper accommodation, guidance, protection and so on. Basically, to do, and provide the child with whatever is in his or her best interests. Contact, on the other hand entails maintaining a personal relationship with the child, visiting or being visited by him or her, and communication with the child in various forms.
Now we deal with the issue of whether or not the mother of your child can arbitrary deny you from exercising your parental responsibilities and rights of care and contact. Should a mother feel that the father of her child should have limited rights and care to his child; in order for her to limit his rights, the mother should have a very good reason for doing so. Her reason should be motivated by what is in the child’s best interest and nothing else.
However, what is in the child’s best interest is an objective assessment and not a maternal one. All factors are to be considered. Therefore, by way of example, should the mother’s reason be that the father has a new girlfriend, or that she does not like his parents – that would not on the face of it be a good reason. Therefore, should the father unreasonably be refused care and contact, he can invoke the law. Should he decide to litigate, the court would assess the matter and make a ruling as to what is in the minor child’s best interest. The court may agree with the mother, or the father, or with none of them.
As a father of a child, you are legally afforded with certain parental responsibilities in relation to your child. In South African law, there is no distinction between the rights of a mother and that of a father in relation to a child if the father has full parental rights and responsibilities. However, what the law looks at is what would practically make sense when exercising those rights and responsibilities. In other words, we cannot cut the child in half.
The yardstick is, what is in the child’s best interests. All families are different, with many variables at play. Therefore, if it would be in the minor child’s best interests to reside with their mother, that should happen. Even if the father only sees the child on Christmas eve, then that should be the case. However, in the same breath if it would be in the minor child’s best interest for the minor child to reside with the father and the mother to have contact once a month, then that should be enforced. Therefore, if you as a father are unreasonably being obstructed from exercising your rights of care and contact, get legal advice, and enforce your rights.
This and other articles and posts found on this website are written by Adv. Muhammad Abduroaf to assist people with various family law related issues they may have. If you find any of our articles, free resources and posts interesting, or possibly useful to others, please like and share it on Social Media by clicking on the icons below. For more interesting articles and information on Family Law, view our articles and Q&A page. If you have a family law related legal issue and you want someone to answer or reply to it, feel free to post it on our Family Law Blog. Therefore, kindly like and share.
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