The father does not want to consent to a passport and the Relocation from South Africa with my minor child. What are my rights?

Consent for Relocation and Passport Application for minor children

Relocating from South Africa with your child – When do you need consent from the father?

Relocation – If you were born and raised in South Africa, it does not mean that you have to live there for the rest of your life. There are opportunities elsewhere in the world to live and continue your life’s journey. This may include a neighbouring country, or on another continent like Europe. Wherever it is, there are a few things to consider should you wish to relocate with your minor child. This is especially so if you are not relocating with the father. If you are the only parent to your child, then this article may not apply to you. This is where we will start off this article.

The other parent when it comes to relocation

If you are a mother and was never married to the father of your child, the father may have guardianship rights. This would be the case even though the father’s name is not mentioned on the child’s birth certificate. This is so as the Children’s Act affords certain rights to unmarried fathers. Therefore, if an unmarried father has parental rights and responsibilities of guardianship, his consent is required. This we deal with next.

Guardian’s Consent for relocation and passport – What does the law say?

The Children’s Act 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) .

Consent to the child’s departure or removal from the Republic of South Africa and Passport

As can be seen above, section 18(3)(c)(iii) and (iv), read with section 18(5) of the Children’s Act; both guardians’ consent is required for the minor child’s departure or removal from South Africa and for a passport. Therefore, should a mother decide to relocate to Canada, for example, she would need the father’s consent if he is a guardian. Now it is clear that not all fathers are guardians of their children. Here the law differentiates between married and unmarried fathers.

Parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers

Section 20 of the Children’s Act deals with the Parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers. It states the following:

20 Parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers

The biological father of a child has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child-

(a) if he is married to the child’s mother; or

(b) if he was married to the child’s mother at-

(i) the time of the child’s conception;

(ii) the time of the child’s birth; or

(iii) any time between the child’s conception and birth.

From the above, it is a given, that fathers who were married to the mother, as described above should consent for the relocation and application for a passport of the minor child. This is so as full parental responsibilities and rights include the right of guardianship over the child.

Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers

Section 21 of the Children’s Act deals with Parental responsibilities and rights of unmarried fathers. 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-

(i) 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.

Analysing the above, it is clear that only if an unmarried father played a material role in the child’s life, as stipulated, he acquired the parental responsibility and right of guardianship over the child. Therefore, his consent would be required for the relocation and application for a passport.

What if a father does not want to consent to the relocation and application for a passport?

If the father does not want to consent to the relocation and application for a passport of the minor child and he has legal guardianship over that child; section 18(5) of the Children’s Act referred to above finds application. The mother would then have to approach the High Court to dispense with the father’s consent.

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