Parents who abandon their children
It comes as no surprise that the deadbeat dad, the fully-grown man, who, having had his fun, abandons his responsibilities towards his children.
As South African family life changes, fatherhood is shifting in important and sometimes amazing ways. Today, fathers who live with their children are taking a much more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house.
The ranks of stay-at-home fathers and single fathers have grown considerably in recent decades. At the same time, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.
What one must never forget is that it is not really the parents who have rights it is the children who have the rights to have a meaningful relationship with both their parents. Parents have responsibilities to their children, these responsibilities are enshrined in law. The sad reality is that too many people flout these responsibilities and do not put their children first when a relationship ends. This means the children then become the pawns in a game to hurt the other person. Many fathers and mothers I have worked with know or have been subjected to terrible allegations of abuse and violence towards their former partners and their children all in the name of hindering them from seeing their children to hurt them. Sadly is it is always the children who lose out every time.
There are many real stories about children who have been “left” with their mother after a divorce or separation. Often these fathers abandon the family and leave all the responsibilities to the mother or her new partner to care for his children. I am in such a situation. I care for two lovely children who have been abandoned by their father who they have not seen for more than 8 years with no emotional support and no maintenance, for the past 8 years I raised them as my own and I am proud that they call me dad.
Research has found that serial fathers who leave their homes and go on to start a second family are the men most likely to lose contact with their children. More than 1 in 5 men in the UK who live with second families never meet their children born during earlier relationships, according to research. Less than 1 in 12 fathers in the survey said that they see their children from their first family every day and nearly one third said they do not have a close relationship with them. According to the survey, 129,000 fathers did not have any contact with their children and 300,000 did not pay any maintenance to their former families. The study underlined concerns over the impact on children in single-parent families over the lack of men in their lives. In the UK a million children live in ‘men deserts’, in families without fathers and in neighbourhoods and schools where they rarely meet an adult male. Another survey found that nearly one million men have children they do not live with, around one in 20 of all fathers.
But it is not only dads who flout their responsibility towards their children since studies had shown that about the same percentage of mothers who did not live with their children paid all the child maintenance they owed as dads who didn’t. A recent research paper in the United States suggested that toddler dads are not quite as useless as the numbers and their popular image would imply.
According to a study, which appeared in the Journal of Marriage and Family, in the United States it was found that many fathers who didn’t pay child support in cash, nevertheless made a substantial contribution in kind towards their children. Almost 50% of the fathers in the study who were cash-poor nonetheless tried to contribute in other ways for example by providing baby products, food and clothing and school expenses.
Many people believe that a person can never lose their rights and responsibilities over a child. While a person may have parental rights and responsibilities in respect of a child, the extent of such rights and responsibilities may be altered if it is in the best interest of the child. Section 28 of the Children’s Act, 38 of 2005, provides that an application may be made for an order to terminate, extend, suspend or restrict the parental rights and responsibilities of a person.
Over time, the circumstances surrounding a child can change and may result in many of the child’s interests being neglected or improperly catered for. Occasionally the circumstances have materially transformed to such an extent that a person’s right or ability to properly give effect to their parental rights and responsibilities, in a manner that is in the best interests of the child, are doubtful. It is therefore that the legislature introduced Section 28 of the Children’s Act.
An application in terms of Section 28 may be launched to suspend a person rights for a period;
A Section 28 application may be launched by the following persons:
It is also significant to note that where a Section 28 application is launched by a person who has no parental rights and responsibilities, that person can also launch an application in terms of Section 23 to have rights of contact and care granted to them.
When considering an application in terms of Section 28 the court must take the following into account:
As every decision affecting a child must be made in the best interests of the child, it follows that the persons having the rights and responsibilities in respect of a child must exercise them in a manner that is in the child’s best interests. If they do not, the law provides for a mechanism to prevent any potential harm or neglect to the child’s best interests, among other things in the form of a Section 28 application to have a persons’ parental rights and responsibilities terminated, suspended, extended or limited.
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Content provided by Bertus Preller Family Law Attorney at Maurice Phillips Wisenberg
Cases and Articles on Divorce Law and Family Law in the SA courts.
Legal news and case law in the South African courts, compiled by Family Law attorney, Bertus Preller.
Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney in Cape Town.