Monthly Archives: July 2016

When an abused child needs help

A4_bThere are instances when a child may need help or protection. An abused or neglected child, for example, might need intervention with the state’s help.  Fortunately, the Children’s Act, 2005 (Act 38 of 2005) gives effect to the rights of children contained in our constitution. These rights are carried out by the Children’s Court, which is expressly concerned with the care and safety of children (under 18).

The Children’s Act differs from previous legislation about children and covers other aspects relating to their rights. For instance, the Act gives effect to The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction and of Inter-Country Adoption. It also makes new provisions for the adoption of children.

What is The Children’s Act?

The Children’s Act deals specifically with matters regarding children’s care and protection and should not be confused with The Child Justice Act, 2008, which deals with children who are accused of committing an offence. The Children’s Court plays an important role in the practise of the Children’s Act.

The Children’s Court deals with all matters relating to the physical and emotional wellbeing of a child. Some of these include:

  • the protection and well-being of a child
  • the care of, or contact with a child
  • support of a child
  • prevention or early intervention services
  • maltreatment, abuse, neglect, degradation or exploitation

Children’s Courts have the responsibility to make decisions about abandoned or neglected children and also take care of children needing protection or care. The Children’s Court won’t make judgements in criminal cases involving children, however, a social worker may remove a child from their guardians or parents if it’s in the child’s best interest. To find a Children’s Court is not very hard as every Magistrate’s Court in South Africa is also a Children’s Court. The magistrate also acts as the presiding officer of the Court.

The Act and parental rights and responsibilities

The Children’s Act not only deals with children but also parents and guardians concerning their rights and responsibilities.  Some of the parental rights and responsibilities includes caring for the child, maintaining contact with the child, acting as the child’s guardian and contributing to the maintenance of the child.

Going to the Children’s Court

There are some people who have a social responsibility and requirement to go to a Children’s Court if they suspect a case of child abuse. These people include teachers, social workers, lawyers, ministers of religion and nurses. On the other hand, any person may go to the Children’s Court clerk if they are concerned about a child’s safety and protection. You do not have to be the parent or guardian of the child to raise an issue with the clerk. A child also has the right to go to the Court with a matter as long as it’s within the jurisdiction of that particular Court.

The Court has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which is designed to make it as comfortable as possible for children. When the court makes a decision on what to do with a child it uses the guidance of a report from a social worker. The report highlights the best interests of the child. The Court will take into consideration the social worker’s suggestions. The Court order is not permanent and will usually lapse after a two-year period.

Reference:

Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press.

Justice.gov.za. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Family Law, The Children’s Act, 2005 (Act 38 of 2005). [online] Available at: http://www.justice.gov.za/vg/children/ [Accessed 19/05/2016].

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Safeguarding children’s rights during divorce

A3_bDivorce and the resulting challenges regarding CCCcc and the responsibilities of parents can be an ugly and difficult process. This is especially true of the children whose emotional and physical wellbeing would have to be taken into account during the entire process. However, the office of the Family Advocate offers an efficient and free service with the wellbeing of the child in mind.

The Family Advocate (FA) manages disputes regarding the responsibilities and custody of children during and after a divorce. The point of the FA is to protect the rights of children and ensure that their best interests are taken into account when it comes to their custody and the parent’s responsibilities. The office of the FA is not just one person but consists of lawyers and social workers who all assist in getting the best outcome for the child/children.

What can the Family Advocate do?

Section 28(2) of the Constitution says, “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”. This forms the basis of the FA’s role in disputes.

The Family Advocate has the ability to:

  • Institute an enquiry so as to be able to furnish the court with a report and recommendation on any matter concerning the welfare of the minor child;
  • Appear at the trial or hearing of any relevant application;
  • Adduce any available evidence; and
  • Cross-examine witnesses giving evidence at such trial or hearing of an application.

According to Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act (Act 24 of 1987)

The Children’s Act 2005 (Act 38 of 2005) has also made mediation by the FA compulsory for all parties involved in parental rights and responsibility disputes over children born out of wedlock.

What’s the point of the Family Advocate?

The FA has many advantages when there is a dispute over children. The FA can change the parental rights and responsibilities agreements of the parents without the need to go to court. A court will also take into consideration a report by the FA before making any decision on the child, they are even required by law to do this. Furthermore, a registered parental rights and responsibilities agreement would be considered the same as a court order. The office of the FA also allows for the children involved to express their point of view and desires. In order to ensure the best for the child/children, the FA will work together with social workers, psychologists and other professionals when dealing with disputes.

Reasons to see the Family Advocate

  • The parties disagree about how to contact or care for a child.
  • They want to draft, register or change their parental rights and responsibilities agreement.
  • Disputes about whether an unmarried father of a child born out of wedlock fulfils the requirements making him eligible for the full parental rights and responsibilities of the child.

A court may also order the FA to provide a report on what is best for the children involved in a dispute. Altogether, the FA’s goal is to ensure the child gets the best out of a divorce process and that their rights are protected. They can not only help in disputes, but also provide a comfortable environment and process for what can be a stressful time for the children involved.

Reference:

“The Office of the Family Advocate”. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/FMAdv/ on 13/05/2016.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Managing disputes over a deceased relative’s estate

A2_bIf someone leaves a sizeable estate behind, it may cause conflict among the possible heirs. The help of an attorney, when settling an estate after a death, can avoid unnecessary troubles.

The Administration of Estates Act, 1965, determines what must happen with an estate after a person’s death. There are certain steps that should be taken to ensure the process is legal. However, if the estate is worth a lot of money or the deceased has children, then it is a good idea to seek the assistance of an attorney, as family disputes and debts of the deceased can be confusing. In order to this an executor will be appointed to act on behalf of the estate.

Finding the will of a deceased relative

If the deceased person left a will the first thing to do is find it. If they did not tell you beforehand where their will was, you can try calling the probate court in their district or the office of the master of the High Court to check if they have a copy of the will. Other places to call would be the deceased’s life insurance company, bank or lawyer. Otherwise, they might have left a copy of it somewhere secure in their home.

Who is the executor?

An executor is the person appointed to handle the process of settling the estate. The executor will either be mentioned in the will of the deceased or appointed by the master of the High Court. The master will ultimately decide who will take the role of executor. If the chosen executor doesn’t know how to handle the estate or is unfamiliar with the legal procedure, he or she can go to a lawyer for help. Once the executor has been chosen, the master will give them “Letters of Executorship”, which will give only them the authority to handle the estate.

What does the executor need to do?

The executor has several responsibilities such as arranging the valuation of the estate’s property and assets. They will also be responsible for contacting and dealing with all the beneficiaries.

Some other responsibilities of the executor include:

  • Arranging provisional payments for the family’s immediate needs.
  • Opening a bank account for the estate and depositing the estates money in it.
  • Paying all the necessary estate duties.

It’s important that any person who wants to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate have the Letters of Executorship. If not, their actions would be considered illegal. This also applies to the spouse of the deceased person. This eliminates the possibility of several different family members trying to influence the estate’s dealings. The executor will also decide how the assets will be divided between the heirs and if any or all assets need to be sold. If a will is in place the executor will base his/her decisions on it.

Eventually, the executor will prepare a liquidation and distribution account. This would include what will they intend to do with all the assets left after expenses. This account would be delivered to the master, who will check to see if the executor’s actions reflect the will of the deceased and that all legal requirements have been fulfilled.

Important things to keep in mind?

The master of the High Court should be notified of the deceased person’s estate not later than 14 days after the death. According to the Department of Justice a death of anyone who owned property in South Africa must be reported to the master, whether or not they died in the country.

All estates that exceed R50 000 should be reported to the master of the High Court directly because magistrate’s offices have limited jurisdiction. If reported to the magistrate’s office, estates would usually be referred to the master.

References:

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. 2012. “Reporting the estate of the deceased”. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/services/report-estate.html/ on 11/05/2016.

Administration of Estates Act 66 of 1965. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/ on 11/05/2016.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Government administrators making wrong decisions

A1_bOccasionally, government administrations make decisions that people don’t understand or agree with. In cases such as these there are procedures to follow that ensures administrative justice. The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act allows you to have a say in matters that affect your rights.

The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act of 2000 (PAJA) gives people the right to fair, lawful and reasonable administrative action. Furthermore, it gives the right for individuals to be provided with reasons for any administrative actions that affect them negatively.

Administrative action?

If a person applies for an ID, for example, home affairs has to decide on whether or not the person should get one. They could perhaps decide that an ID should not be granted. This process is an example of an administrative action.

Government departments, the police, the army and parastatals such as ESKOM all make up the administration. PAJA applies when a decision made by the administration has a negative effect on someone’s rights. Maybe someone has been denied a work permit, for example, and the administrator did not give specific or good reasons why. PAJA gives them right to know what the reasons were and why they were made.

What does PAJA do?

PAJA requires that administrative decisions follow fair procedures and it allows you to have a say before a decision is made with possible negative implications to your rights. Those who make administrative decisions also have to clearly explain their decisions and tell you about any internal appeals within their department. You are also allowed to ask a court to review their decision when it’s made. An important benefit of PAJA is that you can request the reasons for their decisions.

Know your rights

Administrators are not allowed to simply make decisions without consulting you in several ways first. First, they have to tell you what decisions they are planning to make and how they will affect you. They also have to give you enough time to respond to their plan.

When a decision has been taken and it has negatively affected your rights, administrators must give you a clear statement of what they decided and a notice of your right to review the decision. They also have to give you notice that you can request written reasons for their decision, which you should pursue if you believe an administrators decision was unreasonable or unlawful.

These are some reasons that would make an administrative decision unlawful:

  • There was no good reason for the decision.
  • The decision-maker was not authorised to do so by legislation.
  • The person who took the action applied the law incorrectly.

What can you do?

If a decision has been made that you believe contravenes your rights, you can request that the particular department provide reasons for the decision, if reasons have not already been given. The request should be in submitted in writing and within 90 days of the decision having been made. If you don’t agree with the decision or reasons, you can go through an internal appeal. This step must be taken before you can take further action. Government administrations will usually have their own internal appeals process, which they should notify you about. If you’re still not happy you can complain directly to the department involved or go to a court to take the matter further. Going to court is expensive so it’s advisable to settle the matter through internal appeals, if possible.

Reference:

Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, 2000 (Act 3 of 2000) Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Accessed: http://www.justice.gov.za/paja. 09/05/2016.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)