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Parental Responsibilities and Rights - Care and Contact (Applications in terms of Section 23 of the Children’s Act)

Parental responsibilities and rights encompass a broad spectrum of obligations, privileges, and duties designed to safeguard the well-being and upbringing of children. In legal frameworks such as the Children's Act, these responsibilities are set out providing guidance on care, contact, guardianship, and maintenance. Section 23 of the Children's Act (the Act) specifically addresses the vital aspects of care and contact arrangements for children in cases of separation, divorce, or conflict between parents or guardians offering a structured approach to handling disputes and applications related to these elements.


The legislation permits any person with a vested interest in a child's care, well-being, or development to approach the High Court, a divorce court in divorce matters, or the children's court for an order granting them contact with the child or care of the child. The court holds the authority to impose conditions it deems necessary for the welfare of the child while granting such contact or care rights.


Factors Considered by the Court


When assessing applications as per subsection 23 (1), the court is mandated to consider various crucial factors in accordance with the guidelines set out in subsection 2 of the Act as follows:


  • Best Interests of the Child: Central to s 23 applications is the paramount consideration of the best interests of the child. Courts prioritize the child's welfare above all else, considering factors such as the child's age, emotional and physical needs, relationship with parents, and any potential risks to their well-being. Decisions made under s 23 of the Act are aimed at fostering a stable, nurturing environment conducive to the child's development.

  • Relationships: Evaluation of the relationship between the applicant and the child, as well as with other relevant individuals in the child's life.

  • Commitment and Contribution: The degree of commitment shown by the applicant towards the child and their contribution to the child's expenses and maintenance.

  • Other Relevant Factors: Any additional pertinent factors that the court deems crucial to consider in the circumstances.


Care and Contact Applications under Section 23


In the CM v NG (WCC) (unreported case no 8026/2011, 26-4-12) (Gangen AJ) case, the court set out that “care”, as defined in section 1 of the Act, includes, where appropriate and within available means, providing the child with a suitable place to live, proper living conditions and financial support. It also includes safeguarding and protecting the child from abuse and harm. It deals with guarding against any infringement of the child’s rights, directing the child’s education and upbringing, including religious and cultural education and upbringing, and guiding the behavior of the child in a humane manner. “Care” is also about maintaining a sound relationship with the child, accommodating any special needs that the child may have and ensuring the best interests of the child is the paramount concern in all matters affecting the child.’

It is relevant to note that s 23 applies to ‘interested parties’ and is not limited to ‘parents’, and specified that interested parties may include unmarried parents, grandparents, employers of parents or caregivers.


In a recent Constitutional Court case, Centre for Child Law v T S and Others [2023] ZACC, it was set out that individuals such as the child's unmarried father without parental responsibilities, grandparents, a parent's life-partner, and even a known sperm donor could be considered as having an interest in the child's care, well-being, or development under section 23. The court has the authority to grant either contact or care, or both, to the applicant under section 23(1), with the discretion to impose necessary conditions.


If multiple applicants seek assignment of contact or care along with an adoption order, the court must request a report on the child's best interests from a family advocate, social worker, or psychologist under section 23(3). If contact or care is assigned under section 23, it does not affect the parental responsibilities and rights of another person regarding the child, as clarified in section 23(4). However, section 28(2) allows combining an application under section 23 with one for the termination, extension, suspension, or circumscription of parental responsibilities and rights, enabling a party to seek a change in responsibilities and rights along with contact or care assignment.


Purpose of the Application


The primary purpose of an application under s 23 of the Act is to determine and establish suitable care and contact arrangements in the best interests of the child. This involves setting out the primary residence and care arrangements (care) and defining the nature, frequency, and conditions of interactions with the non-residential parent (contact).


Appropriate relief


When making applications under Section 23, parties involved are encouraged to pursue mediation or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before resorting to court proceedings. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, the matter may be brought before the court, where a judge assesses the circumstances and determines care and contact arrangements based on the child's best interests. The relief sought in these applications includes court orders that establish the primary residence, care arrangements, and contact schedules in the child's best interests.


Conclusion


Parental responsibilities and rights, particularly concerning care and contact, are pivotal in shaping a child's upbringing and well-being. Section 23 of the Children's Act provides a legal framework aimed at resolving disputes and establishing arrangements that prioritize the best interests of the child. Understanding and abiding by the provisions outlined in Section 23 not only ensures compliance with legal obligations but also fosters an environment conducive to a child's healthy development and relationships with both parents, thus contributing to their overall well-being and future success.


This legislation reflects the commitment of legal frameworks to prioritize children's welfare and relationships, while also maintaining the integrity of existing parental responsibilities and rights. It emphasizes the importance of a child-centric approach in resolving matters related to care and contact, ultimately aiming to create a nurturing environment conducive to a child's growth and development.


Remember, seeking legal advice and assistance from qualified professionals is essential when dealing with child care and contact matters. At Rudolf Buys and Associates Attorneys, we have substantial knowledge and experience to assist you in all legal issues concerning minor children and we are here to help you.

 

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