Child Maintenance Law in South Africa

Divorce and separation is unfortunately very common in today’s world, and because the children are the most important factor in any relationship or marriage, understanding child maintenance law in South Africa is very important.

Because so many couples separate or get divorced after a few years, the laws and rules regarding separation and divorce, the splitting up of the couple’s assets, spousal maintenance law and child maintenance law are very important. It is essential that everything is handled fairly and that all factors and circumstances are taken into consideration.


The process

When a couple decides to split up permanently, one of the two will usually file for divorce. The couple or their lawyers will then sort through everything the couple owns and decide who gets what. The issue of spousal maintenance will then be addressed. If one spouse has been earning the major portion of the income, then they might be obliged to pay spousal maintenance to the other partner to help pay his or her living expenses. Spousal maintenance may be paid for a short period of time, for example for two years while the lower earning spouse adapts to paying all his or her costs or retrains for a job, or it may be a lifelong commitment.

In order to prove that one spouse needs spousal maintenance for life, he or she must show that the other spouse was the breadwinner and that he or she will not be able to earn the same money. Other factors like with whom the children live and the circumstances and behaviour of each spouse that led to the separation will be taken into consideration.


What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is paid by one spouse to another for his or her share of the costs of the living costs of the couple’s child or children. The spouse with whom the children live is the one who will receive maintenance from the other. If both spouses are earning the same amount, the maintenance amount paid by the spouse not living with the children will be the same as the amount spent on them by the person who is living with them. However, if one spouse earned more than the other and covered more of the family’s living costs, they will have to pay a larger amount of maintenance.

Essentially, child maintenance is the money spent on looking after the children that are the product of the relationship or marriage which has now ended. The costs will be both spouses responsibilities until the child or children become adults or even beyond that.


What does child maintenance cover?

Child maintenance can be put towards all or some of the living costs of the child or children. These living costs include but are not limited to:

  • Food
  • Rent
  • Lights and water
  • School fees
  • Clothing
  • Medical aid
  • Medicine
  • Consumables like toiletrees, nappies, soap, shampoo etc.
  • Extra-curricular lessons if the child or children have a hobby, the clothes and equipment needed and bits and pieces like competition entry fees etc.
  • Counselling to deal with the separation or divorce (if necessary)
  • University fees
  • Spending money
  • A car when the child needs and is ready for one
  • Money towards school trips, new sports gear and equipment, holidays and more

The expenses which child maintenance can be put towards are very varied. It really depends on the child or children’s needs and what the spouse paying maintenance can afford.

Sometimes, if one spouse was the higher earning one who paid for the majority of the living expenses for the family, and if the children live with the lower earning spouse after the separation or divorce, the higher earning spouse will have to pay both spousal and child maintenance. The two are, however, separate.

Because divorce and separation is so prevalent in today’s world, understanding child maintenance law in South Africa is essential. It is necessary, if you are going through a divorce or separation, to contact an attorney or legal advisor who will assess your specific case and circumstances and give you the best possible advice.