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When a child refuses to see a parent

I have recently dealt with this in two of my cases. In one of my cases a lady approached me and said that her daughter no longer wished to have any contact with her father. The daughter in this case was 16 years old, and the parties had separated two years prior to institution of the divorce action.

In the abovementioned case the daughter was now residing with her mother, and they had developed a close bond. My client advised me that there had been no substantial abuse by the father of the child towards the child. She did however advise me that due to the circumstances surrounding the divorce, and the fact that she had been forced to move out of the matrimonial home, her daughter had sided with her in the actual divorce case. The question arose at the trial as to whether the father should have any access to the child.

In the abovementioned case myself and the opposing attorney both agreed that even at that stage that the daughter did not wish to see her father, we should promote the father-child relationship, and agreed that the father should be granted reasonable access to the child. I had to advise my client that the situation between father and child may improve in future, and that it was in fact his constitutional right to see his child.

In another case which I recently had, I was acting on behalf of the man. He had worked during the course of the marriage, but was unfortunately unemployed at the time of instituting a divorce action against his wife. His wife was employed throughout the marriage, as well as at the time of the divorce proceedings. At the time of institution of the divorce action, my client's son was residing with his uncle, my client's brother. My client's brother had a good job and was in a sound financial position to look after the minor child. In this case my opposing attorney advised us that her client wanted custody of the minor child.

On the evidence in the abovementioned case, it however appeared that the child did not wish to have any access to his mother. The child in fact, according to the evidence, stated his reasons as being that his mother had neglected him during the course of the marriage and that she had made no real attempt to play an active role in his life. The child furthermore alleged that the mother had made no real significant contribution towards his maintenance, and that she had given him a mere R15 a month airtime to contact her, even though she earned in excess of R15 000 per month. The child furthermore stated that he was happy living with his uncle, and had a good bond with his uncle. The child stated that he would like to stay with his father, but that he understood that his father was not in a financial position to support him. He stated furthermore that he would rather stay with his uncle than his mother.

In the abovementioned case myself and the other side eventually agreed that the 16 year old boy continue to reside with his uncle. We agreed in the divorce order that the minor child needed assistance with the identification with the mother-son role and that he needed help to deal with the phasing in of contact and the attachments between him and his mother due to the long absence of proper contact. I encouraged my client to encourage the minor child to adhere to the access regime set out in the divorce order. We furthermore agreed that my client would actively support the child in visiting his mother by whatever methods necessary including undertaking to deliver the minor child to the mother's place of residence at the beginning of each access period.

It is always the duty of the legal practitioner to do solely what is in the best interest of the minor child. It very often get alleged that a child no longer wishes to have access to one of his parents. It is however the duty of the court to encourage a relationship between parent and child which has deteriorated due to divorce proceedings. Nothing substitutes the biological parent of a child.

The only circumstance where I as a legal practitioner would step in to discourage a parent-child relationship, is where there has been some sort of abuse by a parent, and where I do not believe that it would be in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with his/her parent. Otherwise I as a legal practitioner would encourage the parent-child relationship, no matter how bad it seems at the time of the divorce.

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