Parents can claim maintenance on behalf of adult dependent children, SCA rules

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The Supreme Court of Appeal
The Supreme Court of Appeal
PHOTO: Ben Bezuidenhout, GroundUp, Wikimedia, file
  • The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that parents can claim maintenance on behalf of their adult dependent children.
  • In the judgment, the court said different interpretations of the Divorce Act had led to conflicting rulings on whether parents should claim maintenance on behalf of their adult dependent children.
  • The judgment stated that both parents remain responsible for the upkeep of their children during and after divorce.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled that parents can claim maintenance from their estranged partners on behalf of their adult dependent children.

Acting Judge Pieter Meyer and four other appeal court judges ruled on Thursday that mothers, often with limited resources, carry the most financial responsibility to care for and provide for their children during a divorce while fathers "remain actively employed" and become "economically enriched" during and after the proceedings. 

The ruling emanates from an appeal an Eastern Cape woman lodged after the High Court in the province ruled that she could not claim for the upkeep of her adult dependent children from their father. 

READ | SCA dismisses child abuser's claim that his 36-year sentence is too harsh

The woman, identified in the judgment as Mrs Z, and her estranged partner, Mr Z, are undergoing a divorce and have two adult dependent children, aged 23 and 25.

The High Court ruled in favour of Mr Z after he filed a special plea, arguing that their two children were old enough to ask him directly for maintenance. He submitted that their mother had no legal standing to claim on their behalf. 

In the appeal court judgment, Meyer said different interpretations of the Divorce Act had resulted in conflicting High Court rulings about whether parents could or could not claim maintenance on behalf of their adult dependent children.

Meyer stated that the High Court appeared to have incorrectly ruled against Mrs Z. 

The judgment cited rulings that Meyer said correctly considered the vulnerabilities of adult dependent children during divorce proceedings. 

The judgment read:

The parents of a minor child or of an adult dependent child are both under a common law and a statutory duty to support their minor children and their major dependent children in accordance with their respective means.

It also stated that the responsibility of both parents to provide for their children did not end when their marriage ended in divorce. 

"Most children are not financially independent by the time they attain majority at age 18. Many have not even concluded their secondary education and only commence their tertiary education or vocational training after they have attained the age of majority. A further reality is that it often takes time for young adults to obtain employment," the judgment stated.



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