Wednesday, 4 June 2014


The breakdown of a marriage or a relationship is always a traumatic experience for all concerned. The trauma of the breakdown may be particularly acute for children, in particular where the demise of their parents’ relationship has been characterized by heightened emotions, high levels of acrimony and an underlying instability and uncertainty as to the future.

It is well documented that children require additional support and assistance over this time to assist them in dealing with their own grief over the break down of the relationship and in coming to terms with possible new family structures and relationships that may have to be put in place. 

While certainty and stability are among the essential childhood requirements for optimal emotional and psychological health and development for all growing children, these two factors assume critical importance for the child who is subject to the unfortunate breakdown of his or her parents’ relationship.

Parents undoubtedly have the greatest influence in mitigating against the deleterious effects of the breakdown of a relationship by ensuring that 

  • the child’s environment remains free of any parental alienation and/or manipulations
  • the child is neither pulled into nor forced to witness any potential mud-slinging games between the parents or their extended family 
  • the child is permitted to have and enjoy on-going contact and association with the non-residence parent
  • factors such as financial security, constancy in parenting and discipline, routine stability, and certainty as to the myriad of day-to-day activities undertaken by the child remains constant and unchanging unless alteration is required thereto in the best interests of the child.

In order to reduce parental conflict and alleviate the stress caused to children through circumstance-instability, South Africa legislation through the provision of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 which came into operation in 2010 encourages parents to come together and work out a written Parenting Plan regulating the incidence and exercise of their respective rights and responsibilities in respect of their children. 

Parents who are in conflict over their respective rights viz the children and parents who are experiencing difficulty in exercising their rights and responsibilities over the children are mandated to not only endeavour to obtain such plan but to do so with the assistance of a Family Advocate, Psychologist, Social Worker or suitably qualified Mediator prior to their approaching the Court for intervention therein.

Essentially the aim of the Parenting Plan is to regulate the exercise of parental responsibilities and rights as aforesaid, to clarify contact and other arrangements impacting on the children, to provide certainty for the parents and children alike regarding critical issues such as parenting styles, living arrangements, third parties’ involvement in the children’s lives, extended family members’ roles,  special occasions arrangements such as each child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s day, and any significant family days and also to provide certainty as to the financial arrangements that would be put in place for the children’s medical, educational and general day to day financial requirements.

The primary advantage of the Parenting Plan is that if the contents thereof is deemed by the Parents to be mutually beneficially viz parent-and-parent and parent-and-child, the children can look forward to an opportunity to grow up in a stable home environment albeit a single-parent home and to develop independent and meaningful relationships with both their parents the latter of  which is  in essence what parents in a marriage situation would ultimately deem in the best interest of their children.

For more information on Parenting Plans and the Legislative Requirements for Parenting Plans and Parental Responsibilities and Rights Agreements in terms of the South African legislation, please visit Tracey-Leigh Wessels’ website at

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