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Death of a child leading to divorce

One of the worst nightmares which any married couple can face is when their child passes away at a young age. This can place a great deal of pressure on a marriage, and if not correctly handled, very often ends in divorce.

I recently had a case where a man consulted me to institute divorce proceedings against his wife. Their two year old child had picked up a disease and had passed away five years earlier. My client explained to me that their child's death had placed a great deal of pressure on he and his wife's marriage. His wife furthermore blamed him for their child's death, and continuously told him that he could have taken steps to prevent the death. Even though the couple had another child the child's death was a major factor which contributed to the eventual divorce.

In another case of mine the parties had a sixteen year old son who had been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. He had been in a coma for three months before he eventually recovered. My client's wife blamed my client for the accident, as he was the one who had purchased the motorcycle for the minor child. Even though the child here had not died, but very nearly did, the inability of the mother to forgive the father for what he had allegedly done wrong, eventually led to the couple's divorce.

Death of the minor children born of the marriage has made headline news over the last four years. Most recently Jan-Hendrik Van Der Merwe and his wife Patrys, sister-in-law of former Springbok rugby captain Corne Krige, faced a huge tragedy after both their children were killed after falling out of the 4x4 bakkie Jan-Hendrik was driving after one of them apparently opened the door and both landed under the wheels.

A tragedy of the abovementioned nature puts enormous strain on a marriage. Professional help is usually required for the married couple to overcome the tragedy. In my opinion, in order for the marriage to survive, neither partner must blame the other for the untimely death of their child. There is an old saying that “time heals all wounds”, but this is not always true. It takes a great deal of work too for a couple who have faced such a tragedy to save their marriage. Some people say that one of the best ways to overcome such a tragedy is to have faith in God, but that is sometimes easier said than done.

Another recent headline story where a couple faced such a terrible tragedy was where a professor employed at U.C.T. left his young child in his car for a few hours. It was boiling hot outside and the child passed away. I understand that the couple have still managed to make their marriage survive, which is very well done.

A few year ago another ex-Springbok rugby player, Rudi “Vleis” Visagie, accidentally shot his daughter. He thought he was shooting a robber. This incident was the worst he and his wife could possibly face, but they too have made their marriage work.

It is never easy to hear when a client tells me he or she has lost a child and that it is a reason for the breakdown in the marriage. My heart goes out to that client. But sometimes no amount of counselling can help, and the parties are left with no alternative but to dissolve their marriage.

article written by Cape Town divorce lawyer, Peter M Baker

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