Maintenance money: to some, more divisive than divorce
I was unemployed when I found out I was pregnant with my son, and preparing for the arrival of an entire human being was costly. Sometimes I was shocked at the amounts of money we were spending.
I can't imagine what my motherhood journey would be like if I didn't have the support that I do from my partner.
In South Africa, many women go through pregnancy and raising children without the help of the father. I specify father, because the single moms club is a big one here, with 57% of South African children being raised without fathers.
I have seen family friends and acquaintances struggle to make ends meet simply because their partners decided to be missing in action. Single parenting is hard even with financial support if the other parent is not in it physically, but it's harder when the absent parent disapproves of how the child is being raised, and how maintenance money is spent.
We recently stumbled upon one mom's scathing letter on this issue on Channel Mum: An Open Letter To The Father Who Won't Pay Child Maintenance and it resonated to the very atmosphere in many South Africa homes.
"Any child maintenance payments made by you to me do not pay for my holidays" the anonymous mom writes. "I don’t use YOUR money to pay for my clothes, and your payments certainly don’t fund my minor prosecco addiction. Your hard-earned cash doesn’t help me pay my gym membership or go into my savings account (which doesn’t exist).""So when you stalk my Instagram and Facebook and see me making the most of my child-free weekends with friends – rest assured I am funding this,"she insists. She goes on "Let me spell this out for you – any money you pay to help with the raising of our children goes directly to our children. I’ve got two jobs to fund my own lifestyle and pay for our children."
The indignant mom details how she spends the money he provides,listing clothes, shoes, food, schooling, aftercare, uniforms, extra-mural activities, birthday gifts and much more.
"I admit," she reveals, "it goes towards my mortgage – the house which puts a roof over our children’s heads for 11 nights in 14. Their home. It also helps with the associated costs of running that home. I hope you will agree, they need a home. What are the consequences of you not contributing towards their home? Let me tell you, it could result in us needing to find a cheaper home, in a less desirable area, and without a doubt mean a change in school."She ends the open letter with a suggestion: "You should take a walk in my shoes one day and you will see your cash is key to providing the lifestyle our children deserve."
Read more about single mothers here: Women open up about the pain of having deadbeat co-parents
How do you and your ex settle your maintenance responsibilities? Share your story with us and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you would like to remain anonymous.
Child support is not a gender issue
In a reality show called No Excuse: Pay Your Papgeld child maintenance disputes are discussed and child support dodgers are caught, and has gained popularity because it tackles the issue by reaching out to the defaulting parent.
The show calls out both fathers and mothers, because child support is not a gender issue but instead a responsibility issue. In fact, it is a human rights issue, because every child deserves food, shelter and basic opportunities in life.
No one is spared the spotlight, as CNBC Africa TV presenter, Karabo Letlhatlha discovered in one explosive episode. He is filmed literally running away after being confronted by the mother of his child.
What exactly are a divorced parent’s rights, and do they actually have any say in how maintenance money is spent by the custodian parent?
Former Cape Town magistrate, and mom of five, Nikki Okes shared her legal insight with us.
How is maintenance money calculated?
During the divorce process, both parents are requested to submit a list of income and expenses to the Maintenance Officer at their nearest Magistrate’s Court, who will discuss the details with both parties to reach an agreement based on what is both necessary and affordable, she told us.
When there is no agreement, or a dispute, the case will go before a magistrate for a Maintenance Inquiry at which both parents, and witnesses, will present their case.
The court will always consider the best interests of the child in every case.
Nowhere to hide
The court will have assistance from a Maintenance Investigator, who has extensive powers including the right to obtain financial records from the banks and financial institutions of both parents. Parents then can't hide their true income, investments and savings.
The purpose of this investigation is for the magistrate to make an informed and fair decision. Once the court order has been made, the maintenance amount is paid into the custodian parent's account every month, and thereafter the paying parent has no say in how that money is used.
When parents refuse to pay
An Emoluments Attachment order can be made by the court, on application, and the defaulting parent’s employer will be ordered by the court to deduct the amount from their salary and pay it directly to the custodian parent.
Some maintenance orders include an order to cover medical aid and/or school fees directly to the institution concerned, as well as a separate cash amount for the custodian parent to use at their discretion.
In some situations, the person responsible will refuse to pay their agreed commitments, such as school fees, and the school then takes the custodian parent to court for the outstanding fees which causes distress and humiliation to the custodian parent.
The remedy is to approach the court and lay a complaint of a breach of the Maintenance Order, or to apply for a Domestic Violence Order due to Economic Abuse.
If a person is convicted in a criminal court for failure to pay maintenance, punishment could be a suspended sentence, a fine, corrective supervision or even direct imprisonment.
What if the custodian parent can be proven to be spending the money recklessly?
The aggrieved parent can lay a complaint at the Clerk of the Court and a hearing will be arranged in front of a magistrate.
At this hearing evidence is given, from both sides, and the magistrate will decide if the maintenance order should be paid over to another responsible person, who can provide for the child’s needs, or if the custodian parent is within their rights.
If the complaint includes neglect or allegations of incapacity, there will also be a Children’s Court inquiry, which investigates the placement.
If neglect or incapacity is proven, the child might be placed with someone else, who will then be eligible to receive the maintenance payment.
It is important to note that each case is assessed on its own merits and every family’s unique circumstances.
What is your experience with maintenance and spending? Share your story with us and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you would like to remain anonymous.