How to co-parent a child effectively

Happy Family (PHOTO: Getty images)
Happy Family (PHOTO: Getty images)

Many parents, especially fathers, do not have access to their children. This could be because they are unemployed and broke, abusive or because they are no longer in a relationship with the mother of their children. We look at why a parent would keep a child away from another parent, the effects of growing up without a parent and how separated parents can work together to raise a child. 


Divorce and family mediator, Irene Motaung, lists some reasons why one parent might not want the other to have access to their children.   

Separation: Irene says separation and divorce can be very painful and emotional, and this could be caused by the challenges endured during the relationship. Some parents keep their children away from the other parent because of the pain they are still suffering. Letting the child see their other parent means that they also have to see the other parent and they might not feel emotionally ready to do so. A parent may also feel bitter about the relationship and might not let the parent see their child because they want them to experience what they are going through.    

Unemployment: The primary responsibility of parents is to provide for the needs of their children within their means and standard of living, says Irene. “Not supporting your child is a violation of their rights to be cared and provided for. The parents need to try by all means within their capacity to find employment or means of providing for their children’s needs such as food, shelter, school fees and other requirements that include medical and dental needs.Deliberately not seeking employment or sabotaging their opportunities for employment can lead parents to get penalties; this can find them in conflict with the law.”

Refusal to pay child support: According to Irene, because a parent is angry and disappointed because they can’t have their way, they may use the child to spite the other party. “They want to cause distress for the other party by stopping maintenance. Some of them refuse to support their children with the hope that the other party will be frustrated to an extent of letting them have the child since they are restricting the money. Some parents also punish the child for choosing to be with the other parent and not them,” says Irene. Life coach, Fundi Ndaba, says most men who do this don’t feel a responsibility to raise their own kids.“Some parents feel that they were trapped into having the child and are not aware of the impact of such irresponsible behavior,” says Fundi.   

Abuse: Fundi says if the father has an abusive nature, and has previously abused either the mother or the child, the mother has the responsibility to remove the child from such an environment. “Abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional. If the parent has evidence of this, she must report it to the police and let the law take its course.” Irene adds that the mother can also apply for a protection order which will be assessed and validated by the court. “Violence or abuse cases against children can be filed at the Children’s Court,” she says.   

Spite: Irene says this usually happens when there is deep emotional pain that was instilled to one parent, especially when they feel that their pain was not acknowledged and no apologies were offered. Some women will deny access to kids when the partner has moved on and has a new lover, especially if they haven't moved on.Keeping children away from a parent who loves and cares for them out of spite can be as damaging as exposing them to an abusive parent.


Irene says it is essential for both parents of the child, born within or out of marriage, to fully understand that according to the Children’s Act No.38 of 2005, they both have equal rights and responsibilities towards their offspring’s well-being. Rights in this context mean that parents have rights of contact, which is essential for the optimal development of the child. Both parents need to understand that this law is made primarily to protect the best interests of the children and to assist respective parents to uphold their children’s best interests.”  


 Heidi Reynolds, a counselling social worker at the Family Life Centre South Africa (FAMSA), says growing up without a father can impact the child emotionally, psychologically, economically and socially. They can grow up angry as they are missing the opportunity  to call somebody a father and when other children talk about their experiences with their fathers, the child may become withdrawn, angry or jealous. “The child will also experience the    absence of a father-figure or male role model particularly if there is also an absence of other males in the family such as uncles, cousins or grandfathers. As the child grows into an adult, the absent role model may impact on their identity and how they view themselves.”


Wilma Calvert, a counsellor at FAMSA, says parents who are no longer in a relationship can raise children together. Parents can decide on schedules on when children can spend time with the other parent. Wilma also encourages communication between a parent and a child even when they don’t live together. “It is important for fathers who do not stay with    their children to continue to raise and support their children. Communication is also important    and fathers who live out of home should talk to their children on the phone often to help grow the bond,” she says

Parents, who feel the other parent is abusive, can apply for a protection order against the parent. Even when you are no longer in a relationship with the other parent, you have a right to visit your child. If parents experience problems with maintenance and support, they can approach the Maintenance Court.           

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