Megan Brook – Associate Attorney
Contentious divorces can become particularly complicated when there are minor children involved. The appointment of a parenting co-ordinator in these circumstances becomes appropriate. A Court has the power to appoint a professional to assist and/or direct parents in resolving child-related disputes where there is an inability to make joint parenting decisions. In practice, parenting co-ordinators are most often psychologists, social workers, mediators, family law attorneys or retired judges.
The High Court of Pretoria, Gauteng Division (“the High Court”) recently appointed a parenting co-ordinator in a matter involving separated parents and a seven-year-old child in an attempt to force the parents to find common ground. In this matter, several serious allegations had been levelled against the father, and the mother allegedly refused the father any contact with the child. The father, having not seen his child for months, brought an application to the High Court for contact and it was ruled that a parenting co-ordinator be appointed.
Parenting co-ordination is a child-centered process in which a mental health or legal professional with mediation training assists parents to develop and implement a parenting plan, comply with a court order and/or resolve pre- and post-divorce parenting disputes in a non-adversarial forum.
In South Africa, there is no legislation governing the appointment and authority of a parenting co-ordinator. The basis of their appointment is either by a court order, a parenting plan or a settlement agreement and the scope of the parenting coordinator’s authority will be stipulated. A Court’s ability to appoint a co-ordinator comes from its inherent authority, as the “upper guardian” of all children, to ensure that the best interests of children are maintained.
There are several provisions of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (“the Act”) which support the appointment of a parent co-ordinator by our Courts. Section 2(d) of the Act has, as one of its objects, the making of provision for “structures, services and means for promoting and monitoring the sound physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social development of children.” Section 6(4)(a) of the Act further states that in any matter concerning a child “an approach which is conducive to conciliation and problem-solving should be followed and a confrontational approach should be avoided.” There is thus ample authority which supports the appointment of a parenting co-ordinator, even in the absence of an agreement between the parties.
The decision-making powers of a parenting co-ordinator may extend to matters such as care, contact, schedules and timetables, school activities, health care, child care practices and relocation. The co-ordinator has the power to make decisions or issue directives which are binding on the parents until a court directs otherwise.
The appointment of a parenting co-ordinator after a divorce or relationship breakdown can be extremely helpful as many parents fail to establish an effective co-parenting relationship. Contact email@example.com to meet with our specialist family law attorneys, we are here when you need us.
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