Parenting plan workshop held in Pretoria

May 27th, 2019
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A two-day workshop on parenting plans was held by the Family Assist Network in March in Pretoria. From left: Magistrate Tania Truter; Family and divorce mediator at Family Assist, Marici Corneli; Magistrate Elsa Schnetler; and Senior Family Advocate from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Chris Maree.

By Marici Corneli

Parenting plans were introduced by the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (the Act) in order to set out the rights and duties of parents, most notably during and after divorce. A two-day workshop on parenting plans was held by the Family Assist Network in March in Pretoria.

Presenters included family and divorce mediator at Family Assist, Marici Corneli and Senior Family Advocate from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Chris Maree. Guest speakers included relevant experts, one of them being play therapist, Charise Meistre who, in line with the Act, provides a voice for the child, and is aptly called a ‘voice of the child-practitioner’ by the network.

Thirty-four delegates consisting of attorneys, advocates, magistrates, life coaches and mediators attended the workshop. Ms Corneli opened the first day of the workshop starting with an explanation of ss 33 and 36 of the Act. Emphasis was placed on the use of terminology as provided for in the Act. This includes the term ‘contact’ rather than ‘access’, ‘contribution’ rather than ‘maintenance’ and the term ‘care’ in the place of the traditional ‘custody’.

She said that contact can be granted by a court to any party that plays a significant role in the child’s life. ‘Contact’ in relation to a child means:

‘(a) maintaining a personal relationship with the child; and

(b) if the child lives with someone else –

(i) communicating on a regular basis with the child in person, including –

(aa) visiting the child; or

(bb) being visited by the child; or

(ii) communicating on a regular basis with the child in any other manner, including –

(aa) through the post; or

(bb) by telephone or any other form of electronic communication.’

Ms Corneli said of importance is that other individuals, such as figureheads in the child/chilren’s life –

such as a housekeeper, teacher, sports coach, neighbours and friends – are also taken into account by the Act in addressing the issue of contact.

The parenting plan was discussed and specific reference was made to the words ‘primary place’ with regard to the residence of a child/children. Ms Corneli stated that: ‘We are moving away from the terminology “primary care” in the parenting plan. When deciding on the living arrangements, it should rather be stated where the child/children will spend the majority of their time.’

In her presentation, Ms Corneli said that the parenting plan should include information on the naming of the child/children, religion, health and emotional well-being, living arrangements, education, family and extended family, maintenance, death of parents, communication, consultation, information sharing and conflict resolution and re-evaluation of the parenting plan.

She added that parents also need to understand that when a parenting plan has been agreed on, the child/children must be informed of the contents of the plan.

Ms Meistre spoke on the importance of the ‘voice of the child’. The ‘voice of the child’ is provisioned in the Act and added that the parenting plan is compiled for each specific family, which makes every parenting plan unique. She added that this implies that it is not only parents who must actively participate in compiling the parenting plan, but also the minor child/children’s view need to be taken into account and addressed to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the child/children. After an assessment by the ‘voice of the child-practitioner’ has been made, the child/children’s views will be communicated to the parents with the mediator present.

Ms Meistre also spoke on the devastating effects of parental alienation, and how a parenting plan can combat parental alienation. This falls in line with the principle that even though parents are not good partners, they can still be good parents. Parental alienation is a form of abuse, with parents rarely understanding the destructive nature of their behaviour.

A video depicting real life mediation of the parenting plan mediation was shown with emphasis on the handling of high-conflict cases. In these cases parents are often not willing to talk to each other and may file countless legal motions. Parents often use the child/children to communicate information with sarcasm, condescending remarks and profanity frequently occurring. In these cases there is no co-operation in their parenting. Ms Corneli suggested that as mediator in these high conflict matters, there is a need for self-awareness, understanding trauma blocks, self-regulation and to not mediate from your own perspective.

Senior Family Advocate, Chris Maree, discussed the difference between parenting plans and parental responsibility and rights agreements at the workshop.

On the second day of the workshop Mr Maree addressed the importance of the parenting plan and requirements of the plan as expected by the Office of the Family Advocate. He also pointed out the differences between a parenting plan and a parental responsibilities and rights agreement. He said that it is important to note that the parenting plan must comply with the Act and must be practically suited for the specific family and child/children. It must also give clear indication of the voice of the minor child/children and must be in the best interest of the child/children. Furthermore, when compiling a parenting plan, it must be done in a manner to avoid any unnecessary litigation.

Clear guidelines were given for submitting a parenting plan –

  • it must be accompanied by a Form 8 and 9 or 10;
  • the original parenting plan and four copies must be submitted to the office of the family advocate;
  • it must be signed by the parties to the parenting plan;
  • it can only be utilised between the holders of parental responsibilities and rights;
  • the plan needs to be ‘user friendly’, so that even a child should be able to understand it.

Mr Maree pointed out the differences between a parenting plan and a parental responsibilities and rights agreement, namely:

  • The parenting plan is compiled when both parties have rights.
  • The parental responsibilities and rights agreement can only be between the holder and non-holder of parental rights and responsibilities.
  • The parental responsibilities and rights agreement is usually entered into when the child/children are born out of wedlock. After conclusion of this agreement it is not necessary for them to proceed in entering into a parenting plan.

The workshop was concluded with a discussion on parenting coordinators. Ms Corneli stated the positive role of a parenting coordinator in specifically high conflict cases. A parenting coordinator may come from the mental health profession or family law environment and will have the role to try and resolve pre- and post-divorce disputes. She added that the parenting coordinator is appointed by a court order or mutual agreement of the parents, to assist parents in high-conflict cases where the welfare of the child/children are at risk from exposure to the constant parental conflict.

Marici Corneli Samuelson BIuris (UP) is the Director at Family Assist and a Mediator at Mediationworx in Pretoria.