Wherever possible, Parent24 reaches out to local experts for insight and advice in response to readers' questions.
A father wrote to us to share that his ex and her parents discussed his parenting style and choices with each other, and he is wondering if this is allowed, and what he can do to put a stop to it.
According to Deborah Di Siena of Di Siena Attorneys, family members may discuss issues relating to the child without the parent’s knowledge or consent, out of concern for the child’s wellbeing.
"However, their discussions have no bearing on the decisions made on behalf of the child," she says.
"Ultimately, such decisions are left to the parents who have parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the child, unless a court order provides otherwise."
Di Siena stresses that problems can occur where relatives interfere in the wellbeing and upbringing of a child by influencing one parent to alienate the child from the other parent, or alternatively, if family members attempt to alienate the child from one or both parents.
In such instances, there are legal procedures in place for relief from the courts, she assures us.
We also asked Rushka Lee Pedro, family mediator and founder of Minor Impact in Johannesburg, what happens when relatives discuss issues relating to the child without the parent's knowledge or consent?
A parent is both a natural and legal guardian of a child and they share equal rights and responsibilities over the child, she reminds us, "So to answer your question of what happens? Nothing... unless there is a well-prepared parenting plan that is put in place from the Children's Court and the Office of the Family Advocate."
Come to an agreement
"So, the only thing I can advise on is to have both parties come together and agree amicably not to bad mouth the other party in front of the children," says Pedro. All parties would have to agree not to carry any sort of story and to eliminate gossip.
Talking like this creates a negative atmosphere and it will impact everyone including the children, Pedro says, and can create lasting negative effects in the situation in its totality.
"Also, allowing your family to talk out of context creates sort of an ongoing problem, she told Parent24, especially if someone is trying to put a situation to rest and move on.
Taking it to court
If this sort of behaviour continues and it impacts the child, the Office of the Family Advocate gets involved and or a psychologist/counselor.
"When this happens and only then reality strikes and parents/grandparents decide to stop the harmful banter," Pedro says.
The courts will always do what's in the best interest of the child, regardless of the situation.
"The rights and responsibilities lay on both biological parents," she explains, "however, there are rare cases where the rights and responsibilities fall on grandparents, such as in cases where the mother is under the age of 18 and is unable to support herself and the baby".
Parenting plans are essential
Pedro stresses that a parenting plan needs to be put in place to make sure that any unclear circumstances or decision-making regarding the child are made clear and precise.
Parenting plans can be amended under new circumstances or if there are any changes to the family dynamic, such as if either parent get's remarried.
Parenting plans can be put together by a Family Law Mediator or by approaching the Family Court directly. Taking the Family Law Mediation route is a faster process and could be less painful in the end.
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