In South African law a child becomes an adult at age 18. So at what age does child maintenance end? Contrary to what some people may think, maintenance obligation doesn’t end when a child turns 18. Rather, common law states that a parentis responsible for supporting a child until such time that the child becomes self-supporting. For example, if a child is studying (even though they are older than 18 years) they are not self-supporting and are still entitled to maintenance payments.
What is child maintenance?
Child maintenance refers to the legal obligation for a parent to support their child, even if they don’t have custody of that child. Child maintenance payments are made of regular intervals, determined by the lifestyle and income of the supporting parent. Child maintenance is most commonly enforced after a divorce or in the case of a child born out of wedlock with the parents no longer together.
Both parents must provide maintenance for any dependent children in the following circumstances:
- If the parents are separated or divorced
- If the parents are married to each other and the child is born in wedlock
- If they are living together and the child is born out of wedlock
- If they are not living together and the child is born out of wedlock
- If the child is adopted.
In some cases, it is other parties (not the parents) who should be paying child maintenance, particularly if the parents are deceased:
- The grandparents of the child (whether the parents were married or not), depending on the case.
- The siblings of the child.
- The estate of the deceased parents (whether the parents were married or not).
According to divorce law, a decree of divorce will not be granted unless the court is satisfies with the arrangements made concerning the welfare of any dependent children. It is helpful to state that maintenance payments may decrease or increase according to any changes of income of the supporting parent.
To apply for maintenance, a person seeking it will approach the relevant Magistrate’s Court to apply for maintenance at the court’s Maintenance Office. The person will complete and application form and submit a copy of his or her proof of monthly income and valid identity document. A date will then be set for both parents to appear in front of the maintenance officer. The officer will investigate the claim by obtaining statements under oath and gathering information before serving a summons for the parent responsible for the maintenance payments. This person will be required to appears in court and decide to consent to the maintenance amount or to dispute the claim. In case of a dispute, both parents will be required to appear in court and eveidnece from witnesses and both parents will be heard.
If the court rules that one parent should be paying maintenance, the court will order for the amount and date on which the money will be paid.
So what age does child maintenance stop?
The termination of child maintenance is not, in fact, designated by age at all. Rather, child maintenance ends once the child is able to support his or her self with a steady income or gets married. If a child is handicapped and is unable to support his or her self, it is the duty of the parent to continue paying maintenance. As long as a child needs the support, they are entitled to child maintenance.
If the child is earning an income by age 18, the maintenance order will cease to operate. However, support payments can extend until the child turns 21 (or even later) if the child is not self-supporting by this time. For example, a child who is at a tertiary institution is entitled to financial support during this time. As soon as a child marries, however, there are no longer any maintenance obligations in place.