South African Family Law – Child Relocation Dilemma: Balancing Equal Parental Responsibilities


In the realm of South African family law, the intricacies of child relocation amidst divorce proceedings require delicate consideration of the best interests of the child. This case delves into the complexities surrounding a mother’s desire to relocate with her child to another province for employment reasons, sparking a legal battle that hinges on the fundamental question of what truly serves the child’s welfare.

The Law in South Africa: 

South African family law emphasizes the paramount consideration of the best interests of the child in relocation matters. Both parents hold equal parenting responsibilities, and decisions must account for the potential upheaval in the child’s life and the impact on their relationship with both parents. This legal framework seeks to strike a balance between the custodial parent’s freedom and career aspirations and the rights of the non-custodial parent.

Facts of the Case: 

The child, referred to as SH, is a Grade 5 learner residing in Graaff-Reinet, where both parents currently work for the same employer. The divorce proceedings between the parties have taken an acrimonious turn, with the mother seeking relocation to Somerset West, a province seven hours away. The motivation behind the relocation appears to be the mother’s desire to distance herself from the father, raising concerns about the potential impact on SH’s life and relationship with both parents.

Court’s Findings: 

The applicant, the child’s father, expressed valid concerns about the substantial impact the relocation would have on his relationship with SH. The family advocate’s report, recommending relocation without sufficient consideration for the equal parenting responsibilities of both parties, drew criticism from the applicant. The court noted that the advocate failed to acknowledge the potential upheaval in SH’s life and the absence from the father.

The court discerned that the primary motivation behind the relocation was to create distance between the mother and the father, with insufficient consideration for SH’s best interests. Despite the mother’s entitlement to assert her freedom and career goals, the court emphasized the equal parenting responsibilities of both parties and the need to prioritize the child’s welfare.


In conclusion, the court, recognizing the inadequacies in the family advocate’s report, interdicted the mother from relocating with the child to Somerset West. The decision underscored the importance of considering the best interests of the child, emphasizing that custodial rights should not override the equal parenting responsibilities of both parties. This case serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance required in addressing child relocation issues within the framework of South African family law, ultimately safeguarding the well-being of the child amidst parental disputes.

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