The old sayings of “no maintenance no kids” or “you left me, so you won’t see your kids” are often used by parents as a means of revenge and are prevalent in divorce or separation matters.

Dr Marile’ Viljoen, a clinical psychologist, defines Parental Alienation as ‘a set of processes and behaviours conducted and enacted by a parent with the intention to damage or sever the relationship between a child and another parent with whom the child once enjoyed a loving relationship.’ Furthermore, Dr Viljoen emphasises the importance of understanding the symptoms of parental alienation syndrome, as ‘the voice of the child can influence the parenting plan … and if we do not understand the dynamics of parental alienation, it is very easy to buy in or to even become part of that “alienation process”’.

 Senior Family Advocate from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Chris Maree notes the importance of a proper parenting plan and giving effect to the ‘voice of the child’ as stipulated in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (hereinafter ‘the Act’). Mr Maree’s definition of a parenting plan, from a uniquely South African perspective is as follows: ‘A parenting plan is a unique document, which is compiled for a specific family and represents the best possible solutions to avoid future litigation and to ensure the optimal participation of both parents and their minor child. Developed by means of a mediated process prescribed by legislation to address the ever-changing needs of the minor child involved, considering the inputs made by the minor children given their age, maturity and developmental stage and always complying to the best interest of the minor child standard.’

 Section 33(2) of the Act provides that parents who experience difficulties in exercising their parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child must, before approaching a court, first seek to agree on a parenting plan. This section does not compel parents to enter into a parenting plan, it merely instructs them to make an attempt to agree on one. Should one parent refuse to engage in such discussions, the court may be approached for an attempt made to agree on a plan. Section 33(5) provides for a person to seek the assistance of a family advocate, social worker or psychologist, or mediation through a social worker or suitably qualified person in preparing a parenting plan. Thus, before approaching a court, one must first seek such assistance and where the other party is not willing to engage, a court may be approached for intervention.

 Section 35 criminalises the refusal to allow someone who has access to or holds parental responsibilities and rights in terms of a court order or a parental responsibilities and rights agreement that has taken effect to exercise such access. In addition, it criminalises prevention of the exercise of such access. Punishment includes either a fine or imprisonment of up to one year.

 A parent who chooses to go to great lengths to isolate or alienate the children from the other parent in order to prevent the growth of a parental relationship with his/her children should be cognisant of the detrimental effects this may have. It is damaging to the parent and deprives the children of any stability in their lives and future relationships. Parental alienation is thus seen as one of the most devious methods to tarnish a solid society.

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