There is NO Child Maintenance Payment Holiday during the National Lockdown Period! If the other parent is refusing to pay child support during the National Lockdown period – what can you do?
South Africa is now in a state of National Lockdown. As things stand at present, children are not to be moved between homes during this period. This is to limit the spread of COVID-19 / Coronavirus. A lot has been written on the topic of moving children during the lockdown period by co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights. Have a look at a few of these articles written by Our Lawyer on this topic:
- Parental responsibilities and care during the coronavirus lockdown in South Africa – The uncertain questions that cannot and should not be answered today (24 March 2020)
- Co-parenting during the South African National Lockdown period – What does the law say? – The good and the abuse (4 April 2020)
- Latest regulations regarding the movement of children during the National Lockdown – 30 March 2020 (6 April 2020)
Update: 07 April 2020
For those who do not have much time to read further, there is no child maintenance payment holiday during the lockdown period!
Parents and lawyers should focus on what is best for the child
We at Our Lawyer (Pty) Ltd, when working with children matters, always focus on what is best for the child, and not necessarily the parents, or even our client who pays us for our services. Children are a vulnerable sector of our society, and their interests should be vehemently protected. They are our future and the leaders of tomorrow. Who knows, out of your home could emerge the next Olympic star, or State President one day.
The best interest of the child principle applies to all situations – not only during the lockdown but other periods as well. It disappoints us when parents do not want to pay adequate child support towards their children in these trying times.
Complaints from parents where the other parent does not want to pay child maintenance during the lockdown period
We have received queries from parents where the other parent is not paying child support during the National Lockdown period. This for good reason concerns us. We felt it necessary to write an article on this issue. Does the national lockdown afford parents with a child maintenance payment holiday? The same as offered by some loan banks that allows you to miss the occasional monthly payments. Some banks are offering it to their customers due to the national lockdown. Now let’s get into it.
What is child maintenance usually for?
Each family is different, and therefore each child’s needs vary. What would be necessary maintenance for a child of 8, would not be necessary for a child of 13. The same applies to children of the same ages living in different homes. The usual maintenance provisions would include any of the following:
- Groceries, Water and Electricity, Laundry
- Telephone, Internet, airtime
- Domestic Worker, Garden Services
- Clothing, shoes
- Transport costs, vehicle maintenance, repairs
- Medical aid and medical expenses not covered by the medical aid
- Holidays, Entertainment, Recreation, DSTV, Netflix
- Reading material (books, newspaper etc)
- Pets food, litter, Vet
- School projects, assignments
- School fees, Summer and winter uniforms, shoes
- Extra-Mural (incl. clothes), stationery, textbooks, sports equipment (incl. clothing)
For some families, many other items would be included. An in others, only half the items above would be applicable.
Child maintenance payment scenarios
There are usually two (2) scenarios where child maintenance gets paid:
- The first scenario applies where there is a maintenance order in place. This could have been made by the maintenance court, or the divorce court when the parties divorced. Should a maintenance court have made the order, it would usually mean there was a complaint about non-payment or paying too little. This is not always the case. Either way, the court making the maintenance order would have had to be satisfied that the order is in the child’s best interest.
- Then there is the second scenario where there is no maintenance order in place. The parents were never divorced and neither party took the other to the maintenance court. The parties pay maintenance based on an agreement they have, or the paying parent just pays as he or she feels. In the scenario, no court determined whether the amount being paid is fair or not.
Is Non-compliance with a Maintenance Order allowed?
When the maintenance order was made, various factors where considered. Included in those was the fact that the child has a holiday. Therefore, under ordinary circumstances, a parent cannot say they do not want to pay child maintenance during the December holiday, because the child is with them during the entire period. If the court order says that child maintenance is R X a month, that includes school holidays as well. There is, therefore, no payment holiday when it comes to child maintenance where a court order is in place. And if there is no order in place, payments must continue.
Can parents agree to relax the maintenance order during the National Lockdown period despite the Maintenance Order being in place?
It must be noted that children usually cost much more during the holidays as opposed to when they are at school. They eat more and also want to go out more. The latter may not apply during the lockdown period. More electricity is used, as well as water. School fees and medical aid must still be paid.
Furthermore, caregivers may not have any income during this period. However, if the parents come to an agreement for less maintenance to be paid during a specific month, and for it to be repaid the following month, that is in order. This could be because the paying parent is not working during the lockdown. However, unless the paying parent really cannot afford to pay the ordered maintenance, we do not advise that any relaxation of the maintenance provisions are made.
What to do when there is no maintenance order in place?
If there is no maintenance order in place, one would assume that the parents have a cordial agreement when it comes to their child’s expenses. The primary caregiver did not see it as necessary to approach the court for a maintenance order to be in place. On the other hand, a parent may decide not to proceed with seeking a maintenance order because he or she is afraid they may get much less than what is being paid. Then there is a further scenario, where a parent does not want to proceed with a child maintenance claim, as he or she does not want the other parent to be in the child’s life. There are many other reasons as well.
Nonetheless, if a parent has a maintenance agreement in place, that agreement must be fulfilled. The same principles with relaxing the agreement as outlined above would apply here as well. This would be in the child’s best interests. Now we shall deal with what a parent can do if the maintenance obligations are not adhered to during the lockdown period, either in terms of a court order, or agreement.
Noncompliance with maintenance orders and non-payment
There are certain directives in place during the lockdown period for the maintenance courts. If you are not receiving maintenance, and there is no order in place, you may make a first time application to the maintenance court. If there is a maintenance order in place, but it is not being adhered to, then you may approach the maintenance court for its enforcement.
The relevant regulations in respect of the maintenance court during the lockdown period
In terms of direction 8(b)(i) and (ii)issued in the Regulations (No. R418) issued on 28 March 2029 in the Government Gazette (No.43167), the Maintenance Court may deal with maintenance matters during the lockdown as follows:
- First time applications for maintenance will only be dealt with if complete information is supplied in respect of required names, surname, telephone or cellular phone number, employment or business address, banking details of the Respondent; and
- Application in respect of enforcement of maintenance orders
We, therefore, cannot stress it enough, for those who want to know whether there can be a payment holiday, our answer is no. All maintenance obligations must be adhered to. The maintenance courts are still in operation, and defaulters would be dealt with accordingly.
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