WITH ITS PRACTITIONERS dressed in billowing black togas and its piles of paperwork and archaic terms, the law can be scary. When it may impact your role as a single parent, it may even be terrifying.
But it does not have to be. Your desire to ensure the well-being of your child is at least one thing you may have in common with the law.
The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 specifically prescribes that your child’s “best interest is of paramount importance” (Section 7) in all matters concerning their care, protection, and well-being.
Safeguarding your child’s best interests is not always easy, but learning your legal ABCs will help. As it has an effect on your baby from their first breath, all parents should have at least a basic understanding of family law.
If parents are unmarried, a baby is registered under the mother’s surname, unless both parents jointly request in writing that the father’s surname be used
AFTER YOUR BABY’S BIRTH
Within 30 days of a baby’s birth, you have to give notice to the Director of Home Affairs in terms of the Births and Death Registration Act 51 of 1992. A birth certificate will then be issued.
If you’re married (same- or opposite-sex marriage), notice is given under either or both parents’ surnames (or a double-barrelled one).
If parents are unmarried, a baby is registered under the mother’s surname, unless both parents jointly ask, in writing, that Dad’s surname be used.
An unmarried father needs to obtain the mother’s consent to register the baby under his name. Should a mother refuse or be unable to give the consent, a father may apply to a court for a declaratory order in respect of his paternity, in terms of Section 26 of the Children’s Act.
THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF UNMARRIED FATHERS
“One should be careful to attach too much weight to the absence of a biological father’s name on a birth certificate,” says Cape Town advocate Cathy McDonald.
Being registered as a father on a birth certificate may only serve as a provisional indication of paternal rights and responsibilities in respect of a baby.
An unmarried father, in terms of Section 21 of the Children’s Act, gets parental rights and duties if he:
(1) at the time of the child’s birth, was living with the mother in a permanent life partnership or
(2) regardless if he was living with the mother, consents to be identified as the father or
(3) contributes or has attempted to, in good faith, contribute to the child’s upbringing and
(4) contributes or has attempted to, in good faith, to the child’s maintenance for a reasonable period of time.
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