All you need to know about child maintenance
When it comes to our children, strong commitment and love isn't negotiable. Unfortunately, not all parents honour this duty, specifically their legal duty to maintain the well-being of their children. In light of this, the child maintenance system ensures that all parents honour their duty to maintain their children.
Essential facts about child maintenance
- If you don’t know the whereabouts of the child's other parent, maintenance investigators can trace them and determine their financial capabilities.
- Parents are required to pay maintenance until a child is self-supporting.
- The court determines how much a child needs.
- If maintenance isn't paid, the court can take the money from a parent’s salary, their investment account, auction their property or issue a warrant for arrest.
- The maintenance amount can increase or decrease depending on financial circumstances.
Who has a duty to pay maintenance?
- Parents, whether married, living together, separated, or divorced and parents of adopted children, are required to support the financial needs of their children.
- The grandparents may need to pay maintenance, if the child’s parents were married.
Why should I pay maintenance?
Known as the “duty to maintain” or the “duty to support”, all parents have the responsibility to ensure that their children have access to basic necessities such as:
- Medical care
How are payments made?
- At the local magistrate's office and designated government offices.
- To the bank or building society account designated by the person concerned.
- Directly to the person entitled to the money.
- By means of deducting the money from the person’s salary, in accordance with the Maintenance Act, 1998.
Visit the nearest magistrates’ court to apply for child maintenance and take the following documents
- Birth certificate of your child/children.
- Your identity document.
- Proof of residence.
- A divorce settlement.
- Complete and submit form A.
- Proof of your monthly income and expenses.
- The personal details of the parent required to pay maintenance such as their name, surname physical and work address.
- Copy of your bank statement.
The application process
- A maintenance clerk will submit your forms to the maintenence office for review and registration.
- Submit proof of your monthly income and expenses such as receipts for food purchases and electricity/rent bills along with your completed form.
- You will then receive a reference number.
- The court will serve a summons (a letter instructing a person to come to court) on the respondent (the person against whom the claim is brought) to appear in court on a specific date to discuss the matter.
- The magistrate will review the relevant documentation. He/she will then make an order, and may decide to do so without requiring the parties to appear in court.
- If the responsible person doesn't consent to the issuance of an order, he or she must appear in court, where evidence from both parties and their witnesses will be heard.
- If the court finds the person liable for paying maintenance, payments must be made. It's a criminal offence not to pay.
Enforcing a maintenance order
If a parent doesn't pay, the other parent can do the following:
- Lay a formal complaint at the maintenance office.
- Take along records of payment and non-payment as it shows how much is owed.
- Ask the court to get the maintenance directly from their employer.
The court grants permission to the defaulting parent to explain why they didn't pay. However, without a good reason the parent will either need to pay all the outstanding maintenance or they will go to jail.
The law and maintenance defaulters
According to the Maintenance Amendment Act (Act No.9 of 2015) parents who default on their maintenance order can be held liable in the following ways:
- be blacklisted at credit bureaus,
- be jailed for a period not longer than 3 years,
- be imprisoned with the option of paying a fine,
- have interest added to their maintenance arrears, or
- have their property or salary attached.
If the parent who's liable for maintenance can't be traced, the court can issue an order to a cellphone service provider to provide the court with their contact details.