Court name
High Court
Case number
APPEAL 3 of 2012

H v D (APPEAL 3 of 2012) [2012] NAHC 7 (27 January 2012);

Media neutral citation
[2012] NAHC 7
Damaseb JP




versus D



sought on urgent basis to seek interim order of variation of an
extant custody order;

will only interfere if applicant establishes to Court’s
satisfaction that the custodian-parent abusing power of custody over


CASE NO.: A 3/2012


In the matter between:




(Previously H)


Heard on: 20& 25
January 2012

Delivered on: 27January


applicant seeks the following relief:

The dispensing with the forms and service and compliance with the
time limits prescribed by the Rules of this Honourable Court, as far
as may be necessary, and condoning Applicants’s failure to
comply therewith and directing that this matter be heard as one of
urgency as envisaged in Rule 6(12) of the Rules.

That a rule nisi do issue calling upon the Respondent to show cause,
if any, to this Honourable Court on a date to be determined by this
Honourable Court, why an order shoudl not be made in the following

Granting the Applicant interim custody and control of the minor
child, “H”, pending the finalization of an application
for the variation of the terms of the Final Order of Divorce granted
in case number (I) 589/2003, which application shall be launched
within 30 days from date of this order.

Directing that the Respondent shall have access to the minor child,
“H”, every alternative weekend, every alternative long
and short school holiday and at any other time to be agreed between
the parties in advance.

Directing that the said minor child, “H”, shall continue
her secondary education at Delta School in Windhoek and remain in the
Applicant’s custody and control until finalization of the
application referred to in paragraph 2.1 above.

Interdicting and restraining the Respondent from removing the said
minor child, “H”, from Delta School until such time as
the application referred to in paragraph 2.1 above is finlised.

Directing that the Respondent pay the costs of this application in
the event that it is opposed.

That the order in terms of sub-paragraphs 2.1 and 2.4 hereof shall
serve as an interim interdict with immediate effect pending the
finalisation of this application.

[2] The two protagonists in this case,
which comes to this Court by way of an urgent application primarily
seeking urgent interim relief granting custody and control of a minor
child to the non-custodian parent, were divorced on 26 January 2004.
The applicant deposed a founding affidavit and has since replied. The
respondent filed an answering affidavit opposing the relief sougt by
the applicant. I do not propose to set out the averments of the
deponents separately but, having considered them all, next set out
the material facts of the case as appear from the undisputed facts
and those facts se up by the respondent which I am bound to accept
based on the
formula: that where there are disputes
of fact and there is no resort to oral evidence, the court relies on
(i) the applicant’s undisputed facts and (ii) the facts set up
by the respondent unless they are so inherently implausible or
far-fetched that they can be rejected on the papers.

[3] In 2003, the applicant and the
respondent had, in contemplation of the divorce, entered into a
settlement agreement which was made an order of court,
granting custody and
control over the two minor girls of the marriage to the respondent;
and over the than minor boy (“X”), to the applicant. The
boy lived with the applicant until 2005 , completed schooling, became
a major and is since living on his own. The eldest girl is now
20-years-old, and having completed secondary schooling in Namibia, is
now attending university in South Africa. All three children attended
school at the predominantly German-speaking school, Delta, here in
Windhoek. Both parents are German-speaking and prefer a school where
that language is the medium of instruction. The two parents had also
attended and completed scool at Delta.

[4] I shall hereafter refer to the
minor girl who is the subject of the present dispute as “H”.
At the time the parents divorced H was 7 years old. Now she is a
budding teenager of 15 years. It is common cause that she is a very
social person that makes friends very easily; has a close circle of
friends here in Windhoek around whom her live revolves; is very close
to her elder male sibling (“X”) - yet is very
impressionable. She had since her parents’ divorce lived with
the respondent who, like the applicant, was employed at Nedbank here
in Windhoek. The respondent who had since remarried, resigned her job
in the first part of 2011 to prepare for a move to a farm of the new
husband’s family, and at that stage left H in the care of the
applicant who now lives in a stable – and it is not disputed -
loving relationship with a new partner with whom “H” has
also developed a rapport and shares an interest in photography. The
three of them get along very well and she feels loved and welcome in
the applicant’s home.

[5] In October 2011 the respondent
came to Windhoek and informed the applicant that she intended to move
“H” to Otjiwarongo where she would live in a hostel and
attend scool at a school comparable to Delta, also predominantly
German-speaking. It is an understatement that the applicant does not
like this change in “H”’s circumstances. He
believes that “H” has adjusted well living with him and
his new partner and takes the view that it is preferable for “H”
to live with one of the biological parents instead of being placed in
a hostel as she had since she started school life never lived in a
hostel and that such an environment would not be in her best
interests. He feels that the respondent has taken this decision as
punishment for “H” whom she feels is not performing well
at school. Much as the respondent wants to down-play its
significance, it is quite apparent from the papers that “H”
is very upset by this change in her circumstances and does not want
to move to Otjwarongo.

[6] “H” spent the December
2011 vacation with the respondent having been taken from the
applicant. “H” was collected from the applicant’s
home on 2 December. During this period “H” went with the
respondent and her new family to settle-in “Y”, “H”’s
elder female sibling, at a university in South Africa. When they
returned from South Africa on or about 5 January, “H” was
asked by the respondent to pack her belongings then at the
applicant’s home, as she was now moving to Otjiwarongo. The
applicant makes it clear – and there really cannot be any
serious dispute about it from the papers – that “H”
resents the move and has asked him to stop it by seeking legal
redress. That is what brings the applicant to this court. He sought
legal advice and also commissioned a report of an educational
psychologist (Ms Brand) who deprecates the move for “H”
to a hostel as not being in her best interests. The applicant wants
to be granted temporary custody over “H” pending his
bringing an application to vary the extant custody order over “H”.

[7] This court is upper guardian of
minor children. It can, if the circumstances justify (i.e if it is in
the best interests of the child) , vary a custody order in favour of
the non-custodian parent. That is so because a custody order is not a
final order.
It is perfectly legitimate for the
non-custodian parent to approach this court to change a custody order
if they have a basis for believing that it is in the best interests
of the minor child. The minor child is entitled to protection from
the custodian parent if the latter is acting against its best
interests. What is in the child’s best interests will of course
depend on the circumstances of each case. After he was told in
October 2011 by the respondent about her intention to move “H”
to Otjiwarongo, the applicant consulted a lawyer and engaged the
services of an educational psychologist, the latter recommending that
he be awarded temporary custody. That report was received in the
first part of November and also availed to the respondent. The
applicant consulted lawyers on 11 November and brought the present
application on 16 January 2012. School started on 17 January and “H”
is already in a hostel in Otjiwarongo and still expects the applicant
to reverse the respondent’s decision.


[8] The respondet says this
application is not urgent. It was asked by her counsel during
argument, why it was not brought already last year at the time when
the applicant became aware that the decision of the Respondent to
move H to Otjiwarongo was final; or immediately after the expert’s
report became available; or after 9 November, the date on which he
had threatened through his lawyers to bring an urgent application if
the respondent did not desist from moving “H” to
Otjiwarongo. That is all very well and might be an approach that
commends itself in commercial or kindred matters. The present
proceedings are
sui generis
and invoke a special
jurisdiction bestowed on this court to look after the interests of
children - even before the coming into force of the Namibian
Constitution which quarantees children the right to be cared for by
their parents.

[9] The pedandic approach requiring
an applicant seeking urgent relief to
meticulously explain the reason for every delayed action in coming to
court should not be encouraged in proceedings such as the present. No
doubt, there will be circumstances where the facts are such that a
delay in coming to court to ventilate issues affecting children’s
rigths is palpably unreasonable and oppressive that the court would
refuse to come to the assistance of an applicant on an urgent basis,
but this is not such a case.

[10] I do not find it necessary to
devote a great deal of time considering the dispute that has arisen
whether this matter is urgent. Even if I am to be persuaded, which I
am not, that the applicant delayed bringing this application, I do
not think- based on what is now disclosed in the papers about “H”’s
attitude towards her relocation to Otjiwarongo, this Court should, as
her upper guardian (exercising its discretion to entertain or not
matters of this kind) allow that to prevent the ventilation of the
question: is “H”’s relocation to Otjiwarongo in the
circumstances disclosed in the papers in her best interests –
justifying a temporary variation of the custody order, pending a
substantive application to be brought by her father and joint- legal
guardian to vary the terms of the variation order granted by this
court when her parents divorced? It is common cause that the minor
who is the subject of this application has been in the custody of the
respondent since 2 December 2011. The application was served on the
respondent on 16 January 2011.

[11] The applicant makes the
allegation that the minor child is unhappy about having been moved
from Windhoek to Otjiwarongo by the respondent and had asked him to
do something about it as she was not happy with the move to
Otjiwarongo. It is very clear on the papers that “H” had
become resentful of the respondent as a result of being moved to
Otjiwarongo. I have no reason to believe that it is going to remain
that way for good. But that is the present circumstance. It is really
spurious in the circumstances to rely on alleged inaction by the
applicant to bring the application a week or two (or even a month)
earlier than he did: He gives a very detailed and bona fide
explanation of all the steps he had taken to consult a lawyer and
an educational psychologist; and how he acted on advice as to the
timing of the court proceedings. This application is not one where he
seeks some personal financial gain at the expense of the respondent.
He says - and it is not disputed – that he wants to vary an
existing court order ‘in the best interests’ of his own
child who is asking him for help. If the applicant were making all
this up, it would have been the easiest thing for the respondent to
say so and to have it confirmed by “H” who after all is
in her custody since 2 December and certaily at the time she was
preparing the answering papers She does not!

[12] In the circumstances, I exercise
my discretion to entertain the application as one of urgency as
contemplated in rule 6(12) and accordingly dispense with the forms
and service and compliance with the time limits prescribed by the
Rules of Court and condone the applicant’s failure to comply

The requirements for an interim
interdict pendente lite

[13] To succeed in these proceedings,
the applicant must establish a clear right worthy of protection and
that he would not get substantial redress in due course. He must
demonstrate that he has a well– grounded apprehension of
irreparable harm which can only be cured by an interim interdict and
that the balance of convenience favours him. He can also succeed even
if he does not establish a clear right - as long as such right is
prima facie established but open to some doubt.

Right relied on

[14] The applicant wants to vary the
part of the final order of divorce that granted the respondent
custody and control over “H”. He intends to file an
application in due course in that respect. He now wants this court to
grant him temporary custody pending that application. The applicant
predicates the need for variation on temporary basis on the best
interests of “H”. He relies on the fact that when the
present custody order was made the entire family lived in Windhoek
and the children were able to attend the same school and there was
not much disruption in their lives - except for the obvious and
reality that
divorce meant separation of the family in the way already shown. The
respondent has since re-married and has two new children with the new
husband, resigned her job in Windhoek and now lives on a farm 160 km
from Otjiwarongo. Since April 2011 “H” came to live with
the applicant as designed by the respondent, and he has since then
assumed the responsibility of caring for “H”’s
educational and material needs on a day-to-day basis. “H”
is happy with him and wants now to live with him and this new reality
cannot just be changed by the respondent. The respondent wants to
punish “H” by moving her to Otjiwarongo on account of
respondent’s perception - which he says is not well-founded-
that “H”’s grades have declined since she moved in
with the applicant. “H” does not want to go to
Otjiwarongo and resents the respondent for initiating that move. “H”
has a very close circle of friends in Windhoek and it is to her
detriment to suddenly cut her off from her friends and family she had
since become close to. “H” had never lived in a hostel
before and had always lived with one of the biological parents and
being placed in a hostel is to H’s detriment. It is in “H”’s
best interests for her to live with a parent instead of being placed
in a hostel.

The onus and test for variation of
a custody order

[15] It is settled law that the
custodian parent enjoys the right to regulate the minor child’s
life, including where it lives and attends school - and to bring
about changes in those aspects of the child’s life. The court
will only interfere with that power where the power is being abused
and is not being exercised in a way that is in the child’s best
In Niemeyer
(at 76 and 79) the court said:

divorced parents or separated spouses can agree upon a policy for the
minors, where a difference of opinion has arisen, the will of the
custodian-spouse must prevail unless the dispossed spouse can satisfy
the court that a case for its intervention in the interest of the
minors has arisen.

parent seeking variation must on a balance of probabilities show that
the custodian –parent is in exercise of teh power of control
and direction of the child’s life and person acting to its
Odenhove v Gouber,
(4) 857 at 868 B.

[16] The child’s personal
preference is entitled to consideration, and its weight will depend
on the age of the child: French v French 1971 (4) SA 298 (W)
at 299 (H). A child’s existing environment should not readily
be disturbed. As Broom J said in Dusterville v Dusterville 1946
NPD 594 at 597:

child needs, from the earliest dawn of intelligence, a stable
background, if it is to have the best prospect of developing a stable
character. Changes of environment, unless they are unavoidable, are
therefore to be deprecated, especially where they involve an
interruption of intimate personal relationships.’

[17] As I have demonstrated, the case
for intervention only arises where the custodian- parent exercises
the power of custody and control for an ulterior motive and acts
capriciously and whimsically, unconcerned with the best interests of
the minor child. I must add a rider here: It is not the case that as
long as the custodian-parent’s actions are devoid of any of
these vices and he or she seeks to do what they perceive as the best
interests of the child, their actions will be beyond the scrutiny of
this court. The best interests of the child remains the dominant and
overarching consideration. (Fletcher v Fletcher 1948 (1) SA
130 (AD) at 144.)

[18] It is conceivable, therefore,
that however well-intentioned the custodian-parent, there will be
circumstances that the best interests of the child dictate that the
wishes of the custodian-parent be overriden. As was said by Young J
in Van Deijl v Van Deijl 1966 (4) SA 260 (R) ( at 261H):

interests of the minor mean the welfare of the minor and the term
welfare must be taken in its widest sense to include economic,
social, moral and religious considerations. Emotional needs and the
ties of affection must also beregarded and in the case of older
children their wishes in the matter cannot be ignore’

[19] In none of the allegations he
makes, except the reference to an alleged desire to punish “H”,
does the applicant allege and provide even the most modicum of proof
that the respondent is acting with a motive unrelated to the best
interest of “H”. It may well be so that the respondent
feels “H” is having far greater freedom than the
respondent feels is warranted for her age , and that a hostel
environment would curb that and in that way to ‘punish’
“H” - but that is no basis for the conclusion that what
motivates her is the best interests of “H”. It is at
times necesssary for parents to do that sort of thing. I am not here
dealing with a mother who (as in Seimleit v Cunliffe, 1940 TPD
67) wished to change a child’s environmet in order to get to
the father over some dispute relating to maintenance payments or
other simmering issues between divorced spouses. Instead, I am
dealing with a mother who , on the common cause facts and those that
I must accept on the Plascon-Evans test, arranges a meeting
with the applicant and informs him of her intention to move “H”
to Otjiwarongo and seeks his support; visits “H”’s
present school and informs them of the move; visists schools in
Otjiwarongo and checks them out for suitability and settles on a
particular school; meets “H” with her other sibling (“X”)
and informs both about her intentions; makes clear that she is
worried by the behaviour of “H” who overdoes make-up and
wears mini skirts and spends too much time at malls and on facebook;
and wants a more controlled environment for H which comes with hostel

The law to the facts

[20] In the present case it does
appear to me that the respondent takes a very rigid and rather formal
approach to what she is entitled to do do as a custodian-parent and
displays, on the face of it, what appears to be scant regard for the
wishes of the applicant, and most importantly, “H”. “H”
is now a 15-year-old girl and it is foolhardy to simply ignore her

[21] I have , however, at this stage
of the proceedings decided to give precedence to the respondent’s
wishes for the foolowing reasons: Although the expert commissioned by
the applicant concludes that it is to “H”’s
detriment to alter her present circumstances, that report
admittedldly does not have the respondent’s input and there can
be no knowing how it would have changed if it did - especially if
regard were had to the concerns of the respondent as earlier shown.
Although it seems that H has developed a negative attitude towards
the respondent, I am unable to say if it is not a transient
phenomenon that will heal with the passage of time - and I take into
account the respondent’s averment in answer that she had since
apologised to “H” and that the two of them are getting
along and that H had since made new friends at the new scool and is
adjusting. Of course, when the substantive application is brought in
due course these issues will be more properly and objectively
evaluated and in that context one will be able to determine –
regardless of the wishes of the respondent as custodian-parent - what
is in the best interests of “H”. It must be accepted that
“H”’s grades have declined as alleged by the
respondent and that the permissive approach to parenting adopted by
the applicant may have something to do with that.

[22] I am also satisfied that the
respondent, in placing “H” in the care of the applicant
since April 2011, did not by so doing abdicate her role as
custodian-parent and in effect passed it on to the applicant.

Application fails

[23] I come to the conclusion, based
on the common cause facts and the facts set up by the respondent,
that the applicant did not establish to my satisfaction and on a
balance of probabilities that the respondent’s decision to move
“H” to Otjiwarongo was actuated by motives other than the
best interests of “H”. The application must therefore
fail at this stage.


[24] I find no evidence on the papers
that either parent in this litigation (unfortunate as it is) is
actuated by anyting other than what each perceives to be the best
interests of “H”. Neither stands to gain financially and
it is quite obvious they have incurred substantial costs in seeking
to ventilate the best interests of “H”. I think it would
be inappropriate at this stage of the proceedings to require either
to bear the costs of the other. In the exercise of my discretion,
therefore, I prefer that each pay their own legal costs. There is
accordingly no oder made as to costs.




Instructed By: Koep & Partners


Instructed By: Francois Erasmus &

v Bailey
, 1979 (3) SA 128 (A) at 132H;
Van Oudenhove v Gruber,
1981 (4) SA 857at 856 8 D-E(A).

v Abrahams,
1981 (3) SA 593 at 597F –

15 of the Namibian Constitution

Uranium Ltd v Cloete and another,
NR 98 at 100E-F;
Ladychin Investments
(Pty) Ltd v South African National Roads Agency Ltd & Others
2001 (3) SA 344 at 353 E-J – 354

v Murray, 1962 (3) SA 603; Niemeyer v De Villiers
1951 (4) SA 100 (T).

v Johnson, 1963 (1) SA 162 (T).