To relocate with children from one province to another is not always that easy and the main consideration will always be what is in their best interests. In the recent case of CG v NG  JOL 33246 (GJ) the parties were engaged in divorce proceedings. The applicant sought an order allowing her to relocate from Johannesburg to Cape Town with their minor children. The application came before Court by way of urgency.
The Applicant requested the following order:
At a previous court appearance the matter was referred to the office of the family advocate for a report on the primary residence of the minor children since the Court at that time considered the matter and thought that it was imprudent to make a decision about the applicant's relocation to Cape Town with the minor children without having had the benefit of an expert's report, the family advocate.
When the matter came before Court, the primary purpose was to finalise the relocation question. To the Court's total surprise, the applicant instead proposed that the matter be postponed with costs reserved to enable her to challenge the report of the family advocate with which she was in disagreement with.
The applicant contended that the postponement would not be prejudicial to the respondent as she was undertaking not to move to Cape Town until receipt of her own private independent expert report. Her further motivation for the postponement was that the matter should be postponed as it touches on the lives of the minor children.
The respondent, quite correctly in the court’s opinion, opposed the application for postponement. The court viewed the applicant's attempt to have the matter postponed as tantamount to saying that now that the report of the family advocate was not in favour of the relocation of the minor children, the case must be postponed to afford her an opportunity to supplement her papers so that the court can ultimately agree with her.
The court stated that parties come to court to have finality on their matters. It is only in those deserving instances where the court will consider a postponement favourably and this case did not seem to be one of those. Firstly, the court argued that this matter was brought as a matter of urgency and secondly the Court had to put pressure on the office of the family advocate to produce a report within three weeks so that the parties could have certainty.
The court was further of the view that it was indubitably financially prejudicial to the respondent to come to court expecting the matter to be resolved only to be confronted with a postponement.
The court did not grant the postponement and the Court had to deal with the only remaining issue between the parties and that was whether or not the applicant should relocate to Cape Town with the minor children. The law on matters of relocation is clear. The relocation must be in the best interest of the minor children as is prescribed in the Children's Act 38 of 2005. In addition, an applicant in the position of the applicant is at liberty to relocate with minor children provided his or her intention is bona fide and reasonable. The test applies to both relocation within the borders of South Africa and abroad. This was the position in the cases of Jackson v Jackson 2002 (2) SA 303 (SCA) and B v M 2006 (9) BCLR 1034 (W).
The two questions that arose in this matter were:
Whether or not an applicant's proposed move is bona fide and reasonable is a factual enquiry and each case must be assessed on its own merits.
The applicant was living in Johannesburg, Linkxfield, while married to the respondent and to date of the matter before the court she continued to do so. Her relationship with the respondent became estranged a result of which she held the view that it will benefit her to be next to her family, mother, father, brother and sister-in-law all of whom were in Cape Town. Her family will gave her the emotional support that she could not get in Johannesburg. Furthermore, once the minor children were settled, her mother would give her support by fetching them from school such that she could look for employment. As the primary custodian parent of the minor children she argued that her move to Cape Town would be in their best interest and she did not see herself being separated from them as that would prejudice her relationship with them and her proposed move to Cape Town were also supported by her psychologists.
The applicant asserted further that the respondent whom she described as "exceedingly wealthy" could still exercise his rights of access to the children notwithstanding the fact that he would be in Johannesburg and the children in Cape Town.
In response to the applicant's averments, the respondent alleged that it will not be possible for him to travel to Cape Town on a weekly or monthly basis as this would necessarily involve increased costs for him. Moreover, it would take him away from his only source of income, his work.
The relocation of the minor children meant that he would have to seek accommodation in Cape Town, transport and time off work in order to exercise his rights. His ability to generate income would be immensely impaired with devastating repercussions for both the minor children and the applicant especially as she was unemployed and fully dependent on the monthly maintenance that he paid.
The family advocate unequivocally recommended that the status quo be maintained because to move the minor children to Cape Town would reverse the stability that prevailed since the introduction of increased access by their father. The applicant herself agreed that all three minor children liked their father and that they could not wait to visit him. The family advocate also alluded to the fact that the eldest of the minor children appeared settled with her friends at school.
The court held that moving them to Cape Town under those circumstances could upset their routine and bring unnecessary shock to their lives at the time when they were beginning to settle. The court stated that the family advocate is an expert in these kind of matters and he undoubtedly compiled the report with the best interest of the minor children in mind. The Court had no reason to doubt the outcome and dismissed the application and ordered the applicant to pay the costs as between attorney and client.
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Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney in Cape Town.