Divorced parents may not be able to see kids for 21 days_1

In addition to being largely cut off from their extended families and friends, many South Africans around the country will likely not be able to see their children for the next 21 days. Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu this week indicated that some parents’ custody and visitation rights might be suspended over the course of the Covid-19 lockdown, saying no children should be moved during this time. On Thursday, the minister further issued a statement on the matter. “The Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa presents a huge risk to children as it disrupts the normal child care arrangements for parents...
In addition to being largely cut off from their extended families and friends, many South Africans around the country will likely not be able to see their children for the next 21 days.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu this week indicated that some parents’ custody and visitation rights might be suspended over the course of the Covid-19 lockdown, saying no children should be moved during this time.

On Thursday, the minister further issued a statement on the matter.

“The Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa presents a huge risk to children as it disrupts the normal child care arrangements for parents with joint custody,” she said in urging parents to consider the best interest of their children over this period.

The department and legal practitioners around the country were this week inundated with calls from panicked parents whose children live between more than one home.

One such newly-divorced Durban father on Thursday told The Citizen he did not know how he would make it through the lockdown without his six-year-old daughter.

He said they had become “incredibly close” since he and his ex-wife had split.

In accordance with the custody agreement the former couple had arrived at, he usually spent two nights a week – and every second weekend – with his little girl.

“I’ve grown a lot closer to her because the time we spend together now – it’s just her and I,” he said. “We’ve developed a really strong bond”.

But he said when his child was with her mother, their communications became stilted.

“It becomes forced and she barely says two words to me,” he said.

He said he had considered going to court to try and secure access to his child during the lockdown but that after consulting with his lawyers, he had decided against it.

Meanwhile, two local lawyers on Thursday confirmed to The Citizen that they had in recent days been instructed to go ahead with urgent applications for parental access during the lockdown.

One case ended up being thrown out and the other was settled out of court. But, said one of the lawyers, the courts could find themselves inundated with these kinds of applications in the coming days and weeks.

This despite directives from at least two Judge Presidents which could place litigants approaching the courts with matters not considered urgent during this period, at risk of having their cases struck from the roll and being slapped with costs orders.

Child custody is widely accepted as one of the most contentious aspects of divorce proceedings. Advocate Stuart Humphrey – who specialises in family law – said on Thursday that while child custody could be a highly emotive subject for some parents, keeping children with one parent for a three-week long period was “perfectly reasonable” – and, in his opinion, the right move – under the current circumstances.

“The whole purpose behind this lockdown is to prevent the movement of people,” Humphrey said, “On what authorisation could we allow children to travel? And where would we draw the line? Some children have one home in one city and another home in another city”.

He said, though, that if the lockdown were to be extended, the authorities may have to revisit their position as this could start infringing on the best interests of the child.

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