Unmarried fathers to get full access to kids in new bill

Dispute between parents must go for mediation

Isaac Mahlangu Senior reporter
The Children’s Amendment Bill grants full parental rights to a biological father of a child.
The Children’s Amendment Bill grants full parental rights to a biological father of a child.
Image: 123RF

Some of the changes and additions to the Children's Amendment Bill seek to deal with issues of foster care and allowing unmarried biological fathers access to full parental responsibility in the lives of their children.

A new section in the bill states that both parents must agree on the residence of a child and that it should not affect the joint exercise of parental responsibilities.

“The residence of a child must be determined in accordance with the best interests of the child and may include – (a) residence with both parents where the parents are living together; (b) residence with one parent,” the bill states.

It also proposes that disputes arising from decisions of the residence of a child be referred for mediation before the legal route is preferred.

“If there is a dispute between the parents of a child as to his or her residence, the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker or such other suitably qualified person as may be prescribed before approaching the relevant court,” the bill states.

The bill also proposes a person who has custody of a child may not deny a person with parental responsibilities access to the child unless there’s an order of the court to that effect.

The bill proposes that a person who “prevents that person from exercising such [access] contact or such [parental] responsibilities and rights is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year,’’ the bill states.

It also states that a person holding custody of a child “must upon any change in his or her residential address forthwith in writing notify” a person with parental responsibilities of such a change.

The bill also empowers the granting of full parental responsibilities to a biological father of a child.

A new subsection inserted in the bill states that a family advocate may issue a certificate confirming that the biological father has automatically acquired full parental responsibilities.

This will apply in situations where  the mother and the biological father have reached an agreement during the mediation process or the biological father has shown to the satisfaction of the family advocate that he has automatically acquired full parental responsibilities.

“If there is a dispute between the biological father the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, [social worker], social service [professional] practitioner or other suitably qualified person as may be prescribed,” the bill states.