The trouble with child maintenance

The trouble with child maintenance

On a dirt road that winds through the aloe dotted hills outside the village of De Rust in the Western Cape, a young man hitches a lift to work after spending the weekend visiting his children.

The trouble with child maintenance

The trouble with child maintenance

“I don’t see them often,” says the man, who works on an ostrich farm outside of Oudtshoorn about 40 km away.

“Their mother doesn’t want me there any more. She wants her maintenance first. Then I can come back.”

The man says he sees no reason to pay maintenance as the children’s mother already receives grant money from the government.

“They have enough,” he says. “And I have other children I must take care of too. I don’t earn enough.”

It’s an attitude that is widespread in South Africa, where magistrate’s courts are crowded with cases of fathers – and sometimes mothers – who fail to pay maintenance for their children.

Research by the Institute of Race Relations in 2011 found that single parent households, are the norm in South Africa, with the majority of children growing up with one parent, most likely a mother who relies on a R280 a month per child government grant to get by.

Democratic Alliance MP Helen Lamoela, the party’s spokeswoman on social welfare, says the onus is on young men to ensure they do not fall and impregnate a woman when they cannot afford to have a child.

“Children are suffering and living in poverty, living among gangs and drugs while their fathers run businesses and taxis but don’t pay their maintenance. If a man knows he cannot afford to maintain a child, he needs to carefully consider whether he should have sex without protection.”

While there are no clear figures nationally, it is estimated that maintenance defaults run into millions of rands around South Africa.
In the Western Cape alone, “fugitive defaulters” owe around R2.68 million. Family lawyer Bertus Preller says child maintenance defaults are an “enormous problem” that clog up the courts. The main cause of maintenance defaults, he says, is a partner having no money.

“When a couple divorce they start new families. It’s a double expense,” he says.

“There’s a saying that when two bulls are fighting something will get hurt. In the case of a maintenance order it’s the child who is hurt.”

“Fathers shift the responsibility to the mother’s new husband or partner which is an extra burden in the harsh economic climate that we live in.”

Some women, he says, don’t even bother to approach the maintenance court because they feel that it is a pointless exercise.

“Many women would rather avoid a bitter legal fight that could get expensive and make do on their own.”

Petunia Phaka, a Johannesburg based Child Welfare social worker, says the organisation often deals with cases of fathers who love their children and want to see them but can’t afford to pay maintenance.

Mothers will go to court to prevent the father from having access until they receive maintenance money.

“In some cases a father has no job and cannot afford to pay maintenance. At Child Welfare we will try to advise the couple to act in the best interests of the child,” she says.

Phaka says young couples will often fight tooth and nail for maintenance money, even if it hurts the child.

“There’s a saying that when two bulls are fighting something will get hurt. In the case of a maintenance order it’s the child who is hurt.”

It’s well raised men and women who are most likely to act in the best interests of the child, she says.

“If a child grows up in a happy home and is well brought up, chances are they will be good ethical people when they reach adulthood.”


* This article is part of a series produced to support the HEARTLINES money and values campaign to encourage South Africans to think about how they earn, spend, save, borrow and give away their money.

This article was first published in The New Age on 16 January 2014.

Written by Heartlines

9 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    June 27, 2015

    Hey to all. I would like to ask the question ❓ when a farther is paying maintenance and bringing his side. Of the deal, and the mother of the child don’t want me to see my child what can I do. For the first three years the mother and my child was staying with me. And it has been seven years now that I can’t see my child. Is there some one out there that can help me. I will love the idea of being part of my sons live. Please help me


  2. Avatar
    February 27, 2016

    Hi,I have a 8 years old girl.I am from Eastern Cape but based in Gauteng and my girl is here with me.Her father is at home at EC.What must I do to put him in maintanence becouse he has stories when coming to the child’s needs.


  3. Avatar
    June 04, 2016

    I have a problem my daddy’s boy is a taxi driver can the court force him to pay ..?


  4. Avatar
    August 01, 2016

    Hi I’ve been paying maintenance on time. I’m in distress cause I can’t afford to pay R6000 anymore. I can’t afford a lawer and I’m in JHB and the child is in Cape Town. I have started a new family with have 2 kids one in varsity, and I haven’t paid the varsity cost yet. My wife is pregnant with our second child. I’m in dire straight as my X keeps threatening with lawyers and jail. She is living a high life while mine is far from glamorise. I have to travel to Cape Town every time we have to go to court. Please help


  5. Avatar
    December 29, 2016

    I have a court order garnishee and ex resigned as soon as it waS put in place and has changed a his detAils. I have been to court bat 10 times with no solution. Any advise


  6. Avatar
    February 01, 2017

    Hey, my son was living with me for 6 years …never ask the mother for one cent..i raise him alone for that 6years my girlfriend and i,and when he became 14 years old I send him back to go stay with his mother, this is the second year the child Dont go school..but his mother send me a message ,if I want to do it civil or must she go to maintance court..I bought the child school clothes..but the child is not going to school.but the mother just talk about maintance,what do I do


  7. Avatar
    April 04, 2017

    Where can I get help if the child maintenance court fail to help me after doing all the procedure .the Father of my child has agreed to maintain the child via garnish order but the court fail to do all the procedure, in short the child court maintenance is not doing their job


  8. Avatar
    May 29, 2017

    My six year old son wants to live with me, but his mother won’t allow it. What can I do?


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