I am an unmarried mother. I want to take my child with me on a holiday overseas, but the biological father of my child does not want to give consent and co-operate. What are my, and our child’s rights for a passport and to visit the United Kingdom?
South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We have mountains, seas, forests, lakes, and dams. It is the ideal holiday destination, and a countless number of people flock to our shores every year. But now and again, South Africans want to leave our borders and go on holiday to another country. For this, one usually only requires an air ticket, passport, and a visa. And of course, some money. Now the process of traveling overseas would be simple if you are an adult going on your own, or with another adult.
What if a single parent wants to travel overseas with a minor child?
But what if you want to travel overseas with your minor child? When we say minor child, we refer to a child under the age of 18 years old. Under normal circumstances, both parents would co-operate in applying for a visa and a passport for the minor child. But what if this is not the case? What if one parent does not want to consent to the minor child going overseas with the other parent? Let us explore the issues and laws involved.
The parenting scenario – unmarried parents and the child
Let’s say a couple had a child together and they are now separated. They were never married. The father was actively involved in the child’s life since the child’s birth. He paid child maintenance regularly and visited the child often. However, when the child was three (3) years old, he had challenges in obtaining regular contact with the minor child.
Father approaches the Children’s Court
The father then approaches the children’s court and he was awarded reasonable contact. This entailed him having the minor child every second weekend and a half of the school holidays. Telephone and special days’ contact were also incorporated in the Court Order.
The mother approaches the maintenance court
The mother then took the father to the maintenance court, as according to her, the amount he was currently paying was not enough. The matter was then resolved and it was ordered that the father pays for all the minor child’s school fees and medical costs. He also had to make a cash contribution which increased each year by 10%.
Father approaches the domestic violence court
The mother was not happy with the child maintenance amount that was ordered by the Court. The father remarried and his wife was expecting a child. He then approached the maintenance court for a reduction in child maintenance. At the time, the mother also inherited a large sum of money. Arguments arose regarding maintenance, and the mother approached the Domestic Violence court for a Protection Order. The parties, however, managed to resolve the issue. The maintenance order was ultimately reduced and the mother never proceeded with the Domestic Violence Court matter.
Things go well after the parties were tired of litigating against each other
The parties were now tired of litigating against each other. Contact and maintenance payments went well for years. Whenever the mother required consent for something where a co-guardian had to consent for, the father would provide it. For example, the application and enrolment for the minor child into a primary school. The relationship between the parent and the father went well for many years as well.
The Mother wishes to take the minor child with her to the United Kingdom
The child is now 10 years old, and the mother wants to take him with her on a holiday to the United Kingdom to visit the child’s maternal grandparents. This would take place during the mother’s half of the school holidays as per the Children’s Court Order. The last time either the mother or the child saw the maternal grandparent was 5 years ago. This was when the grandparents visited South Africa.
The father refuses to give his consent for the minor child to travel
The mother can afford to pay for both the minor child and her air ticket to the United Kingdom. Accommodation is also not an issue as they will be staying at the maternal grandparents. There are two problems. The child does not have a passport and the father does not want to consent to the minor child going with the mother on holiday overseas. His reason for refusing is because he believes the child is too young to travel overseas. Now let us unpack the parental rights of unmarried parents. Is he allowed to do that?
Parental rights and responsibilities of unmarried parents?
Before we can advise on the scenario above, we first need to unpack the law. The first issue is, that of what are parental responsibilities and rights of parents? Thereafter, we must outline what the parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried mothers and fathers are. As can be seen from the scenario above, the two issues are those of an application for a passport, and for the child to go overseas. Section 18 of the Children’s Act deal with Parental responsibilities and rights. It states the following:
18 Parental responsibilities and rights (1) A person may have either full or specific parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child.
(2) The parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child, include the responsibility and the right-
(a) to care for the child;
(b) to maintain contact with the child;
(c) to act as guardian of the child; and
(d) to contribute to the maintenance of the child.
(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), a parent or other person who acts as guardian of a child must-
(a) administer and safeguard the child’s property and property interests;
(b) assist or represent the child in administrative, contractual and other legal matters; or (c) give or refuse any consent required by law in respect of the child, including-
(i) consent to the child’s marriage;
(ii) consent to the child’s adoption;
(iii) consent to the child’s departure or removal from the Republic;
(iv) consent to the child’s application for a passport; and
(v) consent to the alienation or encumbrance of any immovable property of the child. (4) Whenever more than one person has guardianship of a child, each one of them is competent, subject to subsection (5), any other law or any order of a competent court to the contrary, to exercise independently and without the consent of the other any right or responsibility arising from such guardianship.
(5) Unless a competent court orders otherwise, the consent of all the persons that have guardianship of a child is necessary in respect of matters set out in subsection (3) (c).
From the above, it is clear, if a parent has parental responsibilities and rights, he or she must consent for the application for a passport, and the minor child to travel overseas.
What are the Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried mothers?
Now let us unpack the law regarding parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried mothers as per our scenario above. This is where section 19 of the Children’s Act comes into play. It states:
19 Parental responsibilities and rights of mothers
(1) The biological mother of a child, whether married or unmarried, has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child.
(2) If- (a) the biological mother of a child is an unmarried child who does not have guardianship in respect of the child; and (b) the biological father of the child does not have guardianship in respect of the child, the guardian of the child’s biological mother is also the guardian of the child.
(3) This section does not apply in respect of a child who is the subject of a surrogacy agreement.
It is clear from the above, that irrespective of whether a child’s mother gave birth in wedlock, or out, she has full parental responsibilities and rights over the minor child. Does the biological father have the same rights?
What are the Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers?
This is the question of law the father in our scenario wants to know. What are his parental responsibilities and rights as he was not married to the mother? This is where section 20 of the Children’s Act comes into operation. It states the following:
21 Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers
(1) The biological father of a child who does not have parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child in terms of section 20, acquires full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child-
(a) if at the time of the child’s birth he is living with the mother in a permanent life-partnership; or
(b) if he, regardless of whether he has lived or is living with the mother-
- consents to be identified or successfully applies in terms of section 26 to be identified as the child’s father or pays damages in terms of customary law;
- (ii) contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period; and
- (iii) contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute towards expenses in connection with the maintenance of the child for a reasonable period.
(2) This section does not affect the duty of a father to contribute towards the maintenance of the child.
(3) (a) If there is a dispute between the biological father referred to in subsection (1) and the biological mother of a child with regard to the fulfilment by that father of the conditions set out in subsection (1) (a) or (b), the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker, social service professional or other suitably qualified person.
(b) Any party to the mediation may have the outcome of the mediation reviewed by a court.
(4) This section applies regardless of whether the child was born before or after the commencement of this Act.
Looking at our scenario and the law above, it is clear that this father has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the minor child. This is so as he actively took part in the child’s life since his birth. He also paid maintenance since his son’s birth.
What are the rights of the father in this scenario?
From the facts and law outlined above, it is clear that the mother requires the father’s consent to apply for the minor child’s passport and for him to travel with her overseas. The father, therefore, has the right to refuse consent. However, what can the mother do if she believes it is in the child’s best interest to travel with her overseas? This we deal with next.
What can the mother do if the father refuses to give consent?
Section 18(5) of the Children’s Act quoted above states:
Unless a competent court orders otherwise, the consent of all the persons that have guardianship of a child is necessary in respect of matters set out in subsection (3) (c).
This means that the Court may be approached for the necessary consent. If the court feels that it would be in the minor child’s best interest to obtain a passport and to travel overseas, the court would so order it. Read this article written by us dealing with the latter court application.
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