The difficulties in relocating a child of divorced parents.

I have divorced my husband and I am now the primary caregiver of our minor child. I received a job offer in another country and I would really like to accept it. My ex-husband and father of my minor child won’t consent to the relocation of our minor child. Will I get permission from the court to relocate? 

In the case of relocation disputes where the primary caregiver wants to relocate, there are certain factors the court considers before granting the relocation. These factors are listed in Section 7 of the Children’s Act.  

As one can imagine, family law and divorces are difficult topics; especially when minor children are involved. In the event the parties separate, the minor children will need to be in the primary care of one parent and the other parent will have rights and responsibilities in respect of the minor child but does not necessarily have to live with the child. 

The issue that arises in situations as outlined above is where the primary care-giver wants to relocate to another country and the other parent won’t give consent (hereafter “the disputing party”). The difficult part of disputes relating to relocation is that there are numerous competing rights. The Children’s Act (“the Act”) regulates and makes provision for those rights.  

In order to have a full understanding of the issues that arise here, a breakdown of the various rights should be discussed. Firstly, the right to freedom of movement and association of the primary caregiver may become a problem. Secondly, the rights of the opposing parent to be in contact with the minor child. Lastly, the rights of the minor child are restricted, i.e. the right of the child to maintain personal relations and direct contact with his parents.  The infringement of these rights can, by their very nature, turn into a dispute.  

Where the dispute cannot be resolved between the parties through negotiation, the parties would rather opt for mediation than litigation. The reason for choosing the former is because of the nature of the dispute – it is a family matter and there are minor children involved. Litigation is a more strenuous route of dispute resolution, thus not the most suitable given the circumstances.    

Where the court is tasked with making a ruling in a relocation dispute, there are certain factors the court considers. Section 7 of the Act sets out a list of these factors.  

If the parties are divorced, the court will consider whether there is a court order in existence prohibiting the removal of the child from the court’s jurisdiction. In some case, the parties agree in their settlement agreement to never remove the minor children from the Republic of South Africa. 

In the event the court has to consider the right to contact with the minor child, the court looks at the meaning of the word “contact” as used in the Children’s Act. It is important to keep in mind that “contact” does not only mean the physical seeing of each other in flesh, but also communications via laptop and/or cell phone. This form of contact is easier to make use of in our era.  

The court will consider the reason for the relocation as a factor in these matters. The reason for this consideration is because the best interest of the child is of utmost importance. If the reason for relocation is, for example, to contribute to the child’s education or safety (something that would be considered positive), the court is likely to be more pleased.   

The court will also consider the relationship the child has with the parents. If the opposing parent has a great relationship with the minor child and sees the child every alternate weekend or holiday and will now only be able to email the child- the court will have to consider this and the possible influence the absence of the opposing party would have on the minor child, if relocation is granted.  

This will also become clearer when the court considers the choice of the minor to relocate or not.  

The court also considers the stability factor. This includes the court considering the life outside the home of the minor. It is important to know whether the child is happy where he/she is, how well the child does at school, whether he/she has family members living nearby and whether he/she visits on a regular basis.   

As with the conflicting rights of the parties, the court kept the best interest of the child in mind, whilst considering the abovementioned factors. The court in the AC v KC case also applied the “reasonable person’s test” and the court held that “one must think oneself into the shoes of the proverbial bonus paterfamilias or the reasonable man”. Even though the reasonable person test was used in AC v KC, the best interest of the child is the most important factor.   

Reference list: 

Children’s Act 38 of 2005 

A.C. v K.C. (A 389/08) [2008] ZAGPHC 369  

Jackson v Jackson (18/2001) [2001] ZASCA 139

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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