I need to know, when does a parent’s obligation to pay child maintenance end?
Paying child maintenance, or maintaining their child, is the legal obligation of every parent. A parent does not have a choice in this matter. However, the level and standard of contribution are dependent on the means of the parent. In this article, we will look at the aspect of when does child maintenance come to an end. In this regard, we will look at two situations, one where there is a maintenance order in place and the other where there is not. However, before proceeding with those issues, let us first deal with the issue of who should pay child maintenance.
Pay child maintenance according to your means
The law expects a parent to provide child support according to their respective memes. What this entails, is that a parent should only pay what he or she can afford. Therefore, even if a child requires a huge amount of child support, if a parent cannot afford to provide, he or she will not be held responsible. Therefore, the other parent would have to support the child according to his or her means. In applying this principle in practice, it means one parent may have to pay more child support than the other parent.
However, various factors will have to be looked at. The law does not only look at your income but also at your expenses. If a father earns a substantial amount of money per month, we also have to look at his expenses in order to earn such an amount. For example, he needs to travel overseas regularly and purchase expensive electronics. Those overseas expenses and gadgets should be factored in when considering his means.
The Maintenance Order – Divorce or Maintenance Court
Many a time, parents approach the Maintenance Court for assistance in obtaining maintenance from the other parent. This process usually ends with the court making a maintenance order. This is sometimes by agreement and other times through formal processes like hearings or trials. The same is true in the case of a divorce. When the court grants a decree of divorce, it will make a maintenance order should there be minor children involved. Usually, the order will stipulate until when maintenance is payable in terms of the order. In terms of our law, a court should not grant a decree of divorce unless it is satisfied that the minor children’s interest is looked after.
What should the maintenance order state?
It is of vital importance, that when parties agree on a maintenance order, they are as simple and direct as possible. No one wants to argue over a vague maintenance order years down the line when issues arise. Therefore, although you took a day to settle a maintenance matter, you may take weeks to settle a maintenance dispute based on a simple clause. The order should specifically deal with the aspect of how maintenance should be paid, where it should be paid and until when.
The date the maintenance order lapses
If the maintenance orders state that maintenance will come to an end when the children reach the age of eighteen, then, under those circumstances, the court order will fall away when they reach that age. Another age usually stipulated in a maintenance order is the age of twenty-one. Furthermore, it is sometimes stipulated in a maintenance order that maintenance is paid until the children are self-supporting. The latter situation could become problematic as to how is it determined when a child is self-supportive. This we deal with next.
Child becoming self-supportive
Obviously, if the child moves out of the house, gets a job and pay for his or her own expenses, he or she is self-supportive. However, if the child still resides with his or her parents, but is capable of earning a reasonable income, a dispute might arise regarding whether or not the child is self-supportive. Nonetheless, the maintenance order will stand until the conditions stipulated in the order have passed. The parents would, therefore, have a legal obligation to pay the maintenance as stated in the order.
Does a maintenance order fall away when the child turns eighteen?
As stated above, age does not play a role as to until when child maintenance must be paid. The fundamental issue is that of being self-supportive. Therefore, even if the order says you must pay child maintenance until the child is twenty-one years old, but at the age of eighteen the child earns a much greater salary than his or her parents, and is accordingly self-supportive, then under those circumstances maintenance is not due to the child. In such a case, the parties must agree that maintenance should not be paid. If such an agreement is not forthcoming, then the party who is obliged to pay child support should approach the court to have the order set aside.
To whom should maintenance be paid when the child turns eighteen?
Child maintenance is due to the child and not to the other parent. However many a time, a child of eighteen is still attending school and cared for by a parent. Therefore, although the child is an adult, he or she is not in a position to care for him or herself. Maintenance in terms of the court order should still be paid to the parent caring for the child. Once the child is mature enough, or he or she moved out of the home of the caregiver, he or she may then, under those circumstances, receive the maintenance directly from the relevant parent.
Can a child over the age of eighteen claim maintenance from his or her parents?
If there is no maintenance order in place, when a child turns eighteen, he or she will have to apply for maintenance from his or her parents. As the child is an adult, his or her parents cannot approach the Maintenance Court on his or her behalf. In other words, a parent cannot apply for maintenance on behalf of his or her adult child. This could become problematic, should the child, being an adult, still attend school.