Parental Alienation And Child Custody In South Africa. What You Need To Know.

Parental alienation occurs when separated parents inflict doubt in the children’s minds towards the other parent resulting in frustration by one parent to have contact with the minor children. In these situations, children might be so severely influenced by one of the parents that all attempts to establish an ongoing relationship with them by the alienated parent will be virtually impossible and might only be repaired partially by psychotherapy. The alienated parent eventually gives up hope of ever having meaningful contact with the child.

According to research done by social science, the level of conflict between separated parents is the most influential factor determining the risk of poor developmental outcomes for their children subjected to parental divorce.  Animosity by either one or both parents can lead to parental alienation. One or both parents can also become manipulative by presenting themselves as being the parent who is acting in the best interest of the children. The conflict is seldom resolved and as soon as one crisis is over another one may surface. Children are caught in the centre of these conflicts and as they are often used as go-betweens, they are at greater risk to develop behavioral and emotional psychological issues. These issues are likely to interfere with the children’s daily functioning.

To counter the negativity caused by high conflict separated parents, a well structured and somewhat rigid parenting plan should be put in place to reduce the necessity for parental communication, contact and problem-solving. Parents will have their own support system in place in order to minimise dependence on each other which might exacerbate high conflict situations.

Unnecessary damage

Parents who find themselves in conflict arising from their divorce and/or estrangement might use their children as punching bags in order to vent their own frustrations as a result of the consequences following the breakup of their relationship. Parents who use their children in this way to alleviate their own inadequacies, anxieties and disappointments often subject the children to a further battery of questions from psychologists in cases where the children will be asked in court to express their views. The children are normally very scared by both legal and psychological processes and will most probably themselves need therapy during their lifetime.

The Best Interest of a Child

In cases dealing with child alienation, where the wishes of children, depending on their ages, should be heard, matters should be assessed very carefully when children’s opinions are expressed. There are instances where the court can decide against the wishes of the child, in a case where it becomes clear to the psychological evaluation that the parent used undue influence on the child. In most international instruments or conventions dealing with the rights of a child, a universal principle is found that states the best interest principle supersedes any wishes/opinions of the child. In Section 28(2) of the Constitution, the following is found, “a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child” and should be adhered to in all cases.

The necessity for a Psychologist

In parental alienation cases where bitterly contested custody matters occur, a child psychologist must be agreed upon by the legal representative or the court to evaluate what the best interest of the child would be. The court may appoint an Advocate or Attorney to represent the child’s best interest in terms of the Children’s Act. In cases where a child wishes to express their view in court, an expert psychologist should be present in court to affirm the true wishes of the child.

JA Attorneys are specialist family law and child custody attorneys that deal with all legal matters regarding parental alienation and child custody in South Africa. Contact us to arrange a consult.