South Africa

Mother defies visitation orders, keeps kids from father, and will now go to jail

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Following a recent and unprecedented legal development, which saw a mother jailed for 12 months for refusing a father access to his child, legal experts say this sends a strong message to women across the country, while fatherhood support groups call for harsher sentences to really set an example.

A judgment handed down this month by Judge Portia Phahlane at the High Court in Pretoria found the woman was in contempt of two court orders made by the same court, in 2021 and 2022.

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Reacting to the sentencing, Gary da Silva, chair for the official Fathers 4 Justice South Africa said: “Fathers are not the problem any longer,” after noting that the sentence was rather light.

Phahlane said a person who, against a court order or a parental responsibilities agreement, denied another person access or parental rights to a child as outlined in the order or agreement could be found guilty of an offence and may face a fine or imprisonment for up to one year upon conviction.

Da Silva said fathers were expecting the courts to start doing this far more regularly with parents who interfered with the custody and contact of the child with the other parent.

“We’re specifically demanding that the justice system start coming down on parents, because why does it take five to eight years?

“At a cost of anything between R1 million and R5 million on average for, invariably, the father to gain his rights to contact,” he said.

“This nonsense going on in the justice system, where fathers 70% of the time are being ripped away from their children by mothers, is unacceptable.

“This is bearing in mind that 40% of mothers have claimed that they have deliberately interfered in the contact of the child with the father.”

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He said 50% of mothers saw no value in the continued relationship between the father and the child post-divorce or separation.

“Why did you have a child with the father in the first place?” he asked.

“Society cannot point the finger at fathers any longer. “Not only do we expect judges and magistrates to start sending mothers to jail, they need to increase the time,” he added.

“This nonsense has got to come to a stop.

“We want to make submissions to the South African Law Reform Commission around mediation. We are demanding that mediation must be mandatory and automatic. I see no alternative.

“Why do we always have to go to court? This game has got to stop.”

He said he had more than 250 hours of consultations with fathers who were in similar cases last month alone, “and this month, I’m already going on 300 hours”.

Andrew Parks, an ambassador of the Fatherhood Project, said although they appreciated the court’s decision, it had only occurred because the father had the financial resources to bring the case to the high court.

He highlighted the unfortunate reality that many fathers seeking access to their children were unable to afford such legal actions, “and thus many of these fathers that we assist never have such an ending”.

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The case has sparked debate among legal professionals and the public about the balance between parental rights and the best interests of the child, with many on social media arguing that a child benefits from having a relationship with both parents, while critics express concerns about the potential misuse of court orders in contentious custody disputes.

A family law specialist Stanley Davis said he believed such a strict penalty for contempt of court in a family law matter was rare, “but underscores the court’s commitment to ensuring the enforcement of its orders”.

“This case sends a powerful message about the importance of following court orders, especially in matters involving children,” he said