South African child custody laws may seem like a complete mystery to you. If you are going through a divorce, sometimes you can become overwhelmed by the urge to control your former spouse’s access to your children. It is one thing if this is for your children’s own good, or because your ex is a danger to them, but you should know that each parent does have certain access rights to their children. Children often need the love and attention of both a mother and a father to flourish, but that does not mean that you are failing in your duty if you try to protect them using the law.
The first thing that you should know about South African child custody laws is that they become increasingly difficult to navigate if your children are born out of wedlock. At present there is no common law marriage legislation, and in these cases the legal system often favours the mother in custody rights battles. This patriarchal backlash is slowly being eroded however; as is the perception that only a mother can raise a child. Knowing your rights as a mother or father can help you to protect your children. It is worth getting legal advice so that you create a situation that is favourable to both your own and your children’s needs.
If you would like to allow your former partner to have visitation rights, or share custody (joint guardianship) then this is something worth fighting for. Not all divorces need to be messy and uncomfortable. Some parents simply split up because it is the best thing for them. If you are planning on getting separated or divorced and would like legal advice there are many pro-bono legal centres around South Africa that can provide you with the assistance you need. They can also help to clarify the South African child custody laws.