The Child Maintenance process in South Africa
Snr. Associate | Attorney
Separating or going through a divorce is difficult. But, separating when you have kids can be a complete emotional rollercoaster. And while things are not always simple, one thing is clear – it’s important that you put your children’s needs first. This may mean that you and your children will need the support of your family and friends, or you may want to talk with a family counsellor or psychologist.
When you go through a divorce, you may need to attend mediation to negotiate an agreement or commence proceedings in the Court if an agreement cannot be reached. Either way, it is important to get legal advice to help you navigate your way through the family law and child maintenance system.
When making arrangements for your children, you need to consider family law legislation and the way that our Courts regard parenting disputes. The Maintenance Act 99 of 1998 approaches parenting matters by applying the constitutional principle that the ‘best interests of a child’ is the most important consideration, and by recognising that each parent has parental responsibility towards their children (which is generally shared equally, unless there is a court order ordering otherwise.)
The child maintenance system in South Africa ensures that children of a marriage or long-term relationship will be financially supported by their parents once the split is finalised. Remembering that child support or maintenance is for the financial benefit of the children and not for the benefit of either of the parents (as in the case of spousal maintenance).
Maintenance courts deal specifically with maintenance and family law-related issues. Each court has a maintenance officer and the procedures of the maintenance court are relatively uncomplicated and easy to follow. Still, it is always advisable that parents who are instituting or defending maintenance matters first obtain legal advice on how to prepare the necessary documentation and arguments before approaching a maintenance court.
To begin the maintenance process, your attorneys will help you gather and collate relevant information such as your monthly expenses, proof of your income, and official documents relating to your children such as birth certificate and proof of schooling.
Once this is done, a maintenance application or complaint is filed at the maintenance court. The court will then appoint a maintenance officer who supervises an investigation into the information supplied or required. In some cases, and as part of the whole divorce process, your attorney may suggest the private appointment of a forensic auditor if it is suspected that one of the parties is not being honest about income, assets etc.
After the maintenance office has completed their investigation, they may arrange a formal or informal enquiry in the maintenance court toward settling the matter of how much maintenance must be paid and by whom.
Curiously, after this lengthy process, you’ve only just started the ‘alimony’ journey as there will still be a number of other levels and aspects – both considered and unintended – relating to child maintenance such as appeals, non-payments, step-parents, unemployment, garnishee orders and international maintenance claims.
Our family lawyers have extensive experience dealing with child support and other family law matters. Contact our team to arrange an initial consultation.