Judge says courts tired of parents bad-mouthing each other in child custody battles
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Pretoria - In matters involving custody of children, parents bad-mouth each other in court to try to prove that they are “good”.
But “good” or “bad” parents should never be used as an argument, as its always only about the best interest of the child.
This is according to a judge, who said the courts were tired of mothers and fathers (and their lawyers) each trying to paint a dark picture of the other in a bid to convince the courts that they were the best parent.
Judge SJ Wilson, sitting in the High Court in Joburg remarked that there was never a “winner” in these cases, as it was always the child who suffered.
He suggested that lawyers stay away from climbing into the characters of the parent on the other side and rather stick to the facts.
He also strongly encouraged fighting parents to think twice before they bad-mouthed each other in court papers. The judge commented that parents should take a step back when in anger and think things over.
These remarks were made while Judge Wilson was confronted with an angry father who wanted sole custody over his toddler daughter.
The man had such strong words regarding his estranged wife’s conduct, that the judge said he chose not to repeat them.
“I can only hope that he now regrets this,” was all the judge was prepared to say in his judgment.
Both parents are recovering drug addicts who met in a rehabilitation facility, and their relationship appeared to provide a path out of addiction.
In the papers before the court, each party sought to convince the judge that the other had relapsed and routinely used drugs.
The judge said other than a short relapse that the wife suffered two years ago, to which she admitted, he could not accept any allegations.
“What is important is that both parties have struggled with addiction, and will probably have to deal with a vulnerability to addiction for much of the rest of their lives. That being so, the social support network that they can rely on is critical, both to their well-being, and to H’s ( the daughter’s).
“The strength and stability of such a network is clearly relevant to assessing whether either parent can meet a child’s need for a stable family environment, or something that resembles such an environment as closely as possible,” the judge said.
The father turned to court to obtain sole custody of his daughter, as he said his wife recently and out of the blue, moved out of their home. She took their child and moved in with another man. The father objected to his child living there, especially as he claimed the mother still used drugs and her new lover abused cannabis.
“There is no dispute that Mr T (the new lover) is a recreational user of cannabis.
“There is absolutely no moral opprobrium to be attached to this. So long as it takes place in private, there is no legal penalty to be attached to it either,” the judge said.
He, however, said the mother’s history of addiction, and her lack of practical, reliable support from anyone not regularly using drugs, presented a significant risk to her ability to provide a stable environment for H.
The court found that as the father had a stable employment and support structure such as his parents to help care for the child, she should live with him until the Family Advocate’s office had investigated both parents and advised the court further.