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Navigating Relocation with Children: 5 Key Considerations Under South African Law

Relocating with a child is a significant life event that comes with its own set of challenges, especially when considering the legal aspects involved. South African law places a strong emphasis on the best interests of the child, and parents must navigate the process with care. In this blog post, we will explore the five key things that parents must remember when relocating with a child under South African law.

Best Interests of the Child:

The core principle governing any decision affecting children is the assurance of their paramount best interests. In the realm of South African family law, particularly under the guidance of the Children’s Act, this principle acts as the touchstone for evaluating the impact of any action on a child’s well-being, encompassing their emotional stability, physical welfare, and educational development.

When facing decisions such as parental relocation, it is imperative to undertake a thorough analysis of how such a move will influence various facets of the child’s life. This extends beyond the immediate emotional responses and delves into a comprehensive assessment of the child’s needs in a holistic sense.

In line with Section 7 of the Children’s Act, a multifaceted array of factors must be considered to uphold the best interests of the child standard. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The nature and quality of the child’s relationships with their parents or caregivers, recognizing the unique bond and its influence on the child’s development.
  • The attitudes of the parents or caregivers towards the child and their commitment to fulfilling their parental responsibilities and rights.
  • The capacity of the parents or caregivers to provide for the child’s diverse needs, particularly their emotional and intellectual growth.
  • The potential effects of any significant changes in the child’s environment, especially concerning separations from parents or siblings, and how these changes might influence the child’s stability and security.
  • The practicalities and costs associated with maintaining contact with each parent, considering whether obstacles to regular contact could detrimentally affect the child’s right to ongoing personal relationships.
  • The essential need for the child to remain connected with their family, extended kin, culture, and traditions, thereby supporting their identity and heritage.
  • Factors intrinsic to the child, such as their age, maturity, stage of development, gender, background, and any other pertinent characteristics.
  • The importance of the child’s physical, emotional, and overall developmental needs, acknowledging any disabilities or chronic illnesses they may have.
  • The necessity for the child to experience a stable family setting or, where this is not feasible, an environment that closely mirrors the nurturing aspects of a caring family.
  • The imperative to shield the child from any form of maltreatment, abuse, neglect, exploitation, or exposure to violence, thereby safeguarding their physical and psychological integrity.
  • Consideration of any exposure to family violence and its implications for the child’s safety and emotional well-being.
  • Evaluation of the actions or decisions that would reduce the need for further legal or administrative proceedings concerning the child, thus minimizing additional stress or disruption in their life.

Furthermore, Section 28(2) of the Constitution fortifies this approach by asserting that a child’s best interests hold supreme importance in every matter concerning them. This constitutional mandate serves as an unwavering reminder that in all deliberations and resolutions, the child’s welfare is the foremost priority.

Consent of the Other Parent:

When considering the relocation of a child, obtaining the consent of the other parent or legal guardian is not just a formality—it is a fundamental legal obligation. This requirement serves to ensure that both parents, as equal partners in guardianship, are involved in pivotal decisions that have far-reaching implications on the child’s life.

As per Section 18(3) and (5) of the Children’s Act, a parent who possesses parental responsibilities and rights must engage in acts of guardianship such as administering the child’s property, representing the child in legal matters, and notably, giving or refusing consent for various significant activities, which include the child’s departure or removal from the Republic.

It is important to note that, unless a competent court states otherwise, the consent of all individuals holding guardianship is necessary when it comes to matters specified in subsection (3)(c) – which includes the removal of the child from the borders of South Africa, and the child’s application for a passport.

Moreover, Section 31(2) of the Children’s Act stipulates that any major decision likely to significantly alter or adversely affect the exercise of the other parent’s parental responsibilities and rights, must be preceded by a thorough contemplation of the views and wishes of any co-holder of parental responsibilities and rights.

This legislative framework underscores the importance of a consensus among guardians before undertaking decisions that could significantly change or negatively impact the child’s life.

The intersection of these legal provisions points to a clear pathway: parental cooperation is essential in relocation decisions. Should differences arise, the judiciary acts as the arbiter, weighing the various elements of the child’s life to reach a decision that prioritizes their best interests above all.

Court Approval:

When a parent wishes to relocate abroad with their child and an agreement with the other guardian cannot be reached, the matter must be placed before the court to seek the necessary permission in terms of Section 18(5). In such instances, the court undertakes a meticulous evaluation of several factors before granting permission for relocation. These factors are multifaceted, examining the reasons behind the relocation, the impact on the child’s well-being, and the proposed plans for maintaining the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent.

The case of J.B v R.E (9202 / 2022) [2023] ZAWCHC 3 serves as an example of the court’s jurisprudential approach to relocation situations. In this case, independent experts recommended that the applicant be allowed to relocate with the child, emphasizing that the applicant was the primary caregiver and had historically encouraged a positive relationship between the child and the respondent.

The court also weighed the financial implications of the relocation. A third-party donation significantly backed the applicant’s relocation, which, if not permitted, could have led to escalating conflict detrimental to the child’s interests.

The court prioritized the child’s best interests, highlighting the importance of recognizing the realities of relocation and the potential consequences of obstructing reasonable proposals by the primary caregiver.

Furthermore, the court addressed the respondent’s technical objections and accusations, finding no merit in them. The focus remained on what was in the minor child’s best interests, which, while paramount, do not always trump other rights.

Each case’s unique circumstances must be considered, with the understanding that a custodian parent’s decision to relocate should not be hindered if shown to be in good faith and reasonable.

The court’s decision to grant the relocation order hinged on the belief that the move was in the minor child’s best interests, emphasizing the need for the non-relocating parent to accept this fact for the child’s happiness and stability. The expert reports and recommendations played a crucial role in shaping the terms of the court order, ultimately leading to a decision that promoted the minor child’s welfare and future prospects.

In summary, the court’s approach in such matters is holistic, giving due regard to the child’s best interests, the sincerity of the relocating parent’s intentions, and the potential benefits of the relocation. It stands as a reminder that while the separation may be challenging for the non-relocating parent, the overarching concern is the enhancement of the child’s quality of life post-relocation.

Communication and Co-Parenting:

In the intricate journey of co-parenting, effective communication stands as the bedrock, particularly when navigating the complexities of relocation. It’s not just about logistical arrangements; it’s about nurturing an environment where both parents can voice their concerns, hopes, and aspirations for their child’s future.

Crafting a comprehensive parenting plan, as set out in Section 33 of the Children’s Act, is not only beneficial but necessary to cement the details of visitation schedules, modes of communication, and the various nuances that ensure the child remains closely connected with both parents despite geographic distances.

Under Section 30, co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights are acknowledged to have equal standing in the decision-making processes concerning their child. This means that while each parent can make day-to-day decisions independently, major decisions – especially those involving relocation that can significantly impact the child’s life – must be approached with collaboration and mutual consent. The law emphasizes that no single co-holder can unilaterally make decisions that would considerably alter the child’s circumstances without substantial dialogue, consideration, and in some instances agreement.

Section 31 reinforces this collaborative approach by mandating that before any major decision is made, including those related to relocation, the parent must consider the child’s perspective and the potential impacts on their well-being, as well as engage with any other co-holder of parental responsibilities and rights. This encourages a co-parenting dynamic where significant decisions are weighed with due consideration for all parties involved, particularly the child.

Furthermore, Section 33 outlines the content of parenting plans, underscoring the importance of these agreements in detailing how parents will share responsibilities and rights. A well-drafted parenting plan includes stipulations on where the child will live, their maintenance, contact with both parents, schooling, and religious upbringing, all in line with the paramountcy of the child’s best interests as delineated in Section 7.

Parenting Plans are crafted with professional support from the family professionals assisting the parties. This professional input ensures that the parenting plan is robust, balanced, and practical.

It is therefore highly advisable for parties to consider preparing a parenting plan before the relocation takes place.

Educational and Healthcare Continuity:

The process of relocating with a child demands a meticulous evaluation of the implications on their education and healthcare — fundamental pillars for their growth and development. South African legislation underscores the importance of sustaining a child’s educational journey and access to healthcare, insisting on continuity to avoid disruption to the child’s routine and support systems.

When planning a move, the relocating parent is obligated to take proactive steps to minimize the impact on the child’s education. This involves identifying and enrolling the child in a new school that is aligned with their educational needs and previous academic environment, as guided by Section 7 of the Children’s Act, which advocates for the child’s best interests in all matters.

Healthcare, equally critical, requires the transferring of medical records to new healthcare providers and ensuring that the child’s ongoing and future medical needs can be adequately met in the new location. This preparation ensures the child’s health remains a priority throughout the transition, as emphasized in Section 31 of the Children’s Act. The parent must contemplate and address how the relocation will affect the child’s access to healthcare services, factoring in the proximity to medical facilities and the availability of specialists if needed.

Furthermore, as per Section 33, it is imperative to detail these considerations in a parenting plan, collaboratively agreed upon by both parents. The plan should articulate the strategies for maintaining educational and healthcare stability, including the timing of school transitions and strategies to maintain the child’s healthcare regimen. It should also highlight how both parents will continue to contribute to decision-making regarding the child’s educational and health-related matters post-relocation.

In essence, the law compels parents to prioritize the child’s educational and healthcare needs during relocation, ensuring the child’s best interests are safeguarded and that they continue to thrive in their new environment. Through careful planning and cooperation, parents can facilitate a smooth transition that supports the child’s well-being and development.


Relocating with a child under South African law requires careful consideration of the legal framework and the best interests of the child. By obtaining the consent of the other parent or seeking court approval when necessary, fostering open communication, and prioritizing the child’s continuity in education and healthcare, parents can navigate the relocation process successfully, ensuring a smooth transition for their child.

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