Grandparents in South Africa often find themselves as the day to day carers, guardians and financial support for their grandchildren. Other times they are only weekend/monthly/annual visitors.
How does the law deal with the rights and responsibilities of grandparents?
The natural or adoptive parents always come first in the eyes of the law. They have rights and responsibilities over their children and the courts will always uphold these above other person rights unless it is in the best interests of the children to do otherwise.
It has been part of the common law for some time that the maternal grandparents could be called on for maintenance in the absence of financial means of an unwed mother and father. In more recent times, and through the courts, paternal grandparents now have equal responsibility for maintenance in respect of the grandchildren if the parents of the children do not have the means. The courts will, however, always look to the parents first.
Grandparents do not have any automatic rights of access or contact with their grandchildren. This can prove particularly difficult if one of the parents dies or the parents divorce and the grandparents have difficulty spending time with their grandchildren due to their relationship with the remaining parent.
The Children’s Act does make provision for an application by any person who has an interest in a child for contact with the child. The courts have been inclined to grant contact to grandparents to maintain familial bonds. It is not a guaranteed right but if the courts find it to be in the best interests of the child then the court will grant these rights.