KLVC v SDI and Another  1 All SA 532 (SCA)
Section 21(1)(b) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 (the Act) provides, that an unmarried father of a child, regardless of whether he has lived or is living with the mother of the child, acquires full parental rights and responsibilities over the child if he –
‘(i) consents to be identified or successfully applies to 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’.
In KLVC v SDI and Another  1 All SA 532 (SCA) the issue the court had to deal with was whether the father, had satisfied the requirements of the section and accordingly acquired full parental rights and responsibilities over his minor child. During the father’s temporary trip overseas, the mother relocated the four-month-old minor from Durban to the UK without the consent of the father or authority of a court. As a result the father instituted proceedings in a UK court for return of the child to South Africa. The UK court was unable to decide if the removal of the child from South Africa was wrongful in that it was done without the required consent of the father or authority of court. It accordingly referred the question for determination by a South African court.
The High Court found that the father had satisfied the requirements of the section and accordingly acquired full parental rights and responsibilities over the minor child. The mother then appealed but her appeal was dismissed with costs by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court of Appeal judges held that determining whether or not an unmarried father had met the requirements of the section was an entirely factual enquiry. It was a type of matter, which could only be disposed of on a consideration of all the relevant factual circumstances of the case. An unmarried father either acquired parental rights or responsibilities or did not. Judicial discretion had no role in such an enquiry. The concept of a contribution or attempt in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period was an elastic one, which permitted a range of considerations culminating in a value judgment as to whether what was done could be said to be a contribution or a good faith attempt at contributing to the child’s upbringing over a period which, in the circumstances, was reasonable.
In this case the father had demonstrated sufficiently that he had acquired full parental responsibilities in respect of the minor. As co-guardian, his consent was required prior to the removal of the child from South Africa by the mother. By removing the minor without such consent the mother acted in breach of the father’s parental rights and responsibilities.
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Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney in Cape Town.