Decoding Grandparents Rights In South Africa


Society is constantly evolving, and so are our lives. Often, these changes result in shifts within our family circles. As the heartbeat of the family, grandparents play an important role in shaping the lives of their grandchildren. However, the legal landscape surrounding grandparents’ rights in South Africa is nuanced and multifaceted. So, what are grandparents’ rights in South Africa?

Unfortunately, South African law lacks explicit provisions for grandparents’ rights. However, the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 offers a legal avenue that grandparents can utilize to seek court orders regarding their grandchildren’s care, contact, or guardianship, recognizing their vital role.

To help grandparents understand their legal rights regarding their grandchildren and how they might navigate the landscape of obtaining access and visitation rights if necessary, we will look at grandparents’ rights in South Africa, exploring the legal framework surrounding this issue and addressing common questions.


What Does The Law Say About Grandparents Rights In South Africa?

Although there is no written law regarding grandparents’ rights in South Africa, the country does recognize the importance of extended family relationships, especially those between grandparents and grandchildren.

The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 is a cornerstone of legislation allowing third parties with a vested interest in a child’s care, well-being, or development to petition either the High Court or the Children’s Court for an Order about minors’ care, contact, or guardianship. This legislation creates a platform for grandparents to seek access to their grandchildren.


The Children’s Act – Grandparents Rights In South Africa

There are two main sections in the Children’s Act that courts can utilize in discussing grandparents’ rights in South Africa. Section 23 of the Children’s Act addresses allocating minor children’s care and/or contact to an involved party, such as grandparents, through a court-issued order. Section 24 pertains to the designation of guardianship.


Section 23:

This section specifically addresses the right of a third party, and for this discussion, a grandparent to have contact with their grandchildren. It acknowledges the importance of maintaining meaningful relationships and contact between grandparents and grandchildren, emphasizing the child’s best interests.

Section 24:

Section 24 of the Children’s Act addresses the assignment of guardianship, allowing grandparents to seek greater parental responsibility for their grandchildren. If they desire more than care and contact, they can apply to the court for an order granting them guardianship.

This application doesn’t automatically terminate the parents’ guardianship. Still, grandparents can request limitations or termination, stepping in for primary care due to various reasons such as addiction, parental incarceration, child abuse, economic factors, or the death of parents.


What Aspects Do The Courts Consider?

When determining grandparents’ rights, the courts take various factors into account. The primary consideration is the best interests of the child. Factors such as the child’s age, emotional and psychological well-being, and the nature of the relationship with the grandparents are crucial in the court’s decision-making process.

When evaluating such an application, the court is obligated under Sections 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act to take into account the following:

  • Best interests of the minor child/children
  • Relationship between the grandparent (applicant) and the child/children, along with any other relevant persons
  • Degree of commitment shown by the grandparent towards the child/children
  • Contribution towards the child/children’s financial/maintenance requirements
  • Any other factor deemed appropriate by the court


Litigation Vs. Mediation

Families can pursue litigation or mediation in disputes related to grandparents’ rights in South Africa. While litigation involves a legal battle in court, mediation offers a more amicable and cooperative approach. Mediation allows parties to find mutually agreeable solutions outside of the courtroom, fostering healthier relationships within the family.

Before heading into court, trying for a mediated approach is advisable. In many instances, if the case lands up in court and the grandparents see an unfavourable outcome, it may result in an even worse situation for them as it could cause more damage to the already strained relationship between the child/ren’s parents and grandparents.


Can Grandparents Be Held Liable For Maintenance?

In our changing economic climate, we see more and more instances where either both or one parent cannot fulfil their financial responsibilities towards their child/ren. In some cases, this financial burden falls on maternal or paternal grandparents or, in others, both sets of grandparents.


In What Instances Might A Grandparent Be Held Liable For Maintenance?

While the primary focus of grandparents’ rights often revolves around visitation and guardianship, it’s essential to understand the potential financial responsibilities. In specific circumstances, grandparents may be held liable for contributing to the maintenance of their grandchildren.

This responsibility may arise if one or both parents cannot afford to fulfil their financial obligations. Types of situations that might call for the grandparents to step up include the following:

  • If one or both parents are minors themselves
  • Where the parents can prove that they are unable to fulfil their financial obligations
  • If one of the parents is absent or missing but their parents can be found
  • If one of the parents dies and their estate is unable to support their child/ren financially, but their grandparents can

How Might The Maintenance Contribution Be Determined?

Determining the maintenance contribution involves considering the grandparents’ financial capabilities, the child’s needs, and the overall family circumstances. This determination ensures a fair and reasonable allocation of financial responsibilities, keeping the child’s best interests at the forefront.

Understanding grandparents’ rights in South Africa fosters healthy family dynamics and ensures grandchildren’s well-being. The Children’s Act provides a framework that recognizes the significance of these relationships and aims to protect the child’s best interests.

Whether seeking visitation rights, exploring guardianship options, or navigating financial responsibilities, grandparents can find guidance within the legal provisions of South Africa. In challenging situations, opting for mediation over litigation may contribute to maintaining positive family connections.

At Burnett Attorneys & Notaries, we understand the importance of grandparents’ rights in South Africa. Our dedicated team aims to assist grandparents in navigating the legal landscape and advocating for the best interests of both grandparents and grandchildren. If you have questions or concerns regarding grandparents’ rights, we are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.