Most of us have heard of the term Parental Responsibilities and Rights, but how many truly know the legal framework that supports these rights? This article will help you better understand what these responsibilities and rights entail, ensuring you're well-informed about your role as a parent or guardian.


What Are Parental Responsibilities and Rights?

Parental responsibilities and rights refer to a parent's legal duties, powers, responsibilities and authority concerning their child. These are governed by The Children's Act 38 of 2005, which aims to protect the well-being and best interests of children in South Africa. These responsibilities are comprehensive and extend beyond just providing financial support, made up of four elements: care, contact, guardianship and maintenance.


Key Components of Parental Responsibilities and Rights


  • This entails providing a safe and stable home environment for the minor child.
  • Ensuring the child has sufficient food and clothing, receives an education, and has access to healthcare.
  • Protecting the child from harm and promoting their well-being.


  • Contact refers to the parent's responsibility and right to maintain a personal relationship with the child.
  • This involves communicating with the child regularly, whether they live with you or not.


  • Guardianship involves making important decisions about the child's life, such as education, health care and religious upbringing.
  • This also tasks parents with managing the child's property and representing them in legal matters.


  • Maintenance is the legal obligation that rests with both parents to provide financial support for the minor child's needs as they grow up. 


Who Has Parental Responsibilities and Rights?

In South Africa, both biological parents usually share parental responsibilities and rights. However, there are specific conditions under which these rights are specifically allocated:

  • Married Parents: Both parents automatically have full parental responsibilities and rights.
  • Unmarried Parents: The biological mother automatically has full rights. The father can acquire full rights if:
    • He was living with the mother at the time of the child's birth.
    • He consents and applies for parental responsibilities and rights.
    • He contributes or attempts to contribute to the child's upbringing and maintenance.


The Role of The Children's Act

The Children's Act 38 of 2005 plays a pivotal role in outlining parental responsibilities and rights. Here are some key aspects of the act:

  • Best Interests of the Child: All decisions regarding parental responsibilities must prioritise the child's best interests.
  • Parental Plans: Parents can agree on a parenting plan to outline how they will share responsibilities. This plan should be in writing and may be registered with a family advocate or made an order of the court.
  • Dispute Resolution: The Act encourages mediation and dispute resolution to handle conflicts between parents in a more amicable way.


How to Handle Parental Disputes

Disputes over parental responsibilities and rights can often arise. Thankfully, there are several ways to handle them:


An impartial mediator can help parents reach an agreement that's in the child's best interests. Mediation is often far less expensive and minimises the stress that comes with legal disputes.

Family Attorney

An experienced Family Attorney can be a tremendous asset, as they can assist with drafting and implementing parenting plans.

Court Intervention

If mediation fails, parents can approach the court, which will then make a ruling based on the child's best interests.


Parental responsibilities and rights are there to promote the well-being and proper development of children across the country. By being well-informed about your legal duties and rights, you can create a more stable and nurturing environment for your child and make more informed decisions. If you need further guidance or legal assistance regarding your rights as a parent, contact Cawood Attorneys today. Our experienced team is ready to help you navigate the complexities of our unique legal system.

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