Relocation with your minor child from South Africa – What are my rights?
In today’s modern times, many people decide to leave South Africa and seek employment overseas or in a nearby country. The reason for that could be many. But usually, it’s because they feel they can earn much more in a different country or live a better life. Furthermore, safety and security, and medical benefits are on the list. What often happens is one parent wants to relocate, with a child, however, the other parent has an issue with it. As you will see later, the consent of both guardians is required for a minor child to leave the Republic of South Africa.
Parents need to first discuss the issue of relocation before making a decision
We are often approached by the parent wishing to relocate with the minor child for legal advice. It is often the mother. She wants to know what her rights are regarding the child relocating with her. Now the ideal situation would be for both parents to sit down and discuss the issue. It would obviously have a big impact on their lives should relocation with the child take place. They should discuss aspects regarding contact and maintenance should relocation be a viable option. However, meeting eye to eye and having a sensible discussion on the issue is not always the case.
Effects of relocation on the parents
It often happens when parents do not agree on the issue of relocation; the parent wishing to relocate has to make some drastic decisions. Should she remain in South Africa and continue in her current employment, or remain unemployed? By remaining in South Africa, she would remain the primary caregiver of the minor child. The other option is for the parent to not fight the issue but decide to relocate and leave the child with a parent in South Africa. This could become problematic. Especially so in the case where the parent residing in South Africa was never a primary caregiver of the minor child. In other words, he or she cannot care for the child as well as the parent wishing to relocate.
What does South African law say?
Now in terms of the law, if a child should be removed from the Republic of South Africa, for traveling, or relocation, he or she requires the consent of both guardians. We will not go into the finer details of who is a guardian and what are the rights of a guardian. However, in terms of the Children’s Act, both guardians should consent for the minor child to be removed from the Republic of South Africa, and his or her return. Therefore, if the parents come to an agreement that the minor child may relocate, then the consenting parent should only sign necessary consent documents. Those documents can be obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. At the same time additional assisting documents will be of use. For example, an affidavit from the father stating that he has no issue with a minor child relocating and he provides a mother with the authority to make certain decisions regarding the minor child. These decisions could relate to the enrolment of schools, medical consent, and consent to travel within the country.
Let’s say consent is not provided. What can the parent do under those circumstances? Unfortunately, the parent would have to approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other. He or she will have to convince the court that it would be in the minor child’s best interest for the relocation to take place. The parent who remains in South Africa will have to do the opposite. He or she would have to convince the court that it would be in the child’s best interest for them to remain in South Africa. Valid reasons could be that the country that they wish to relocate to is dangerous, or the child would be better suited to remain in South Africa.
More on approaching the Court when it comes to relocation of minor children
Now the problem arises as mentioned earlier. The parent wishing to relocate is left with a predicament. Does he or she remain in South Africa caring for the child or does he or she relocate and leave the child behind if consent is not given. As stated earlier, he or she would have to approach the Court. All these factors will have to be ventilated before the court and then the court will decide what is in the minor child’s best interest.
We pause here to state that should a parent follow the specific route in approaching the court, he or she may want to at the same time apply for certain sole guardianship rights to the minor child. The parent would have to ask the court for certain rights, for example, should the minor child have to apply for a passport while overseas; only that parent’s consent is required. The same applies should the minor child have to be enrolled in a school, and as stated earlier, attend to a medical procedure.
If the parent relocating is a mother, she can bring up a constitutional argument. She may argue that because she is a mother of the child and gave birth to the child, it is unfair for her to obtain the father’s consent under the circumstances. He, on the other hand, may decide to travel anywhere in the world and do not require the consent of the mother, because he is not the primary caregiver of the minor child.
Summary of the issue of consent for the relocation of minor children
So in short, if the parties cannot come to an agreement on the relocation of the minor child to another country, the parents wishing to relocate should approach the court to dispense with the consent of the other parent. The other parent can oppose the application stating various reasons why it would not be in the minor child’s best interest for them to relocate. If that parent was not much involved in the minor child’s life and cannot care for the minor child; more than likely the court would not find in that parent’s favour. The bottom line is as stated, the court will decide what is best for the child.