'Can I recoup the maintenance money my father never paid my mother?' A legal expert responds

I’m very angry at the way I was treated
I’m very angry at the way I was treated

The issue of maintenance can be a sensitive one, and while the law does protect families, this reader has a question about claiming unpaid maintenance many years later.

Must read:Teen suing mom for maintenance money? We have a lot of questions. Number one: How dare you?

Send us your tricky questions, and we could publish an answer. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

Dear Parent24,

I'm forty-one years old and was born out of wedlock and my mother raised me alone all those years.

I recently contacted my biological father, who got married after he and my mom separated because my 13-year-old son would like to meet him.

I was told not to make any future contact with him, which leaves me with a dilemma. I’m very angry at the way I was treated, so my question is can I recoup the maintenance from him?

I need your advice.

Anonymous Mom

 Also read: 'Money should not be a commodity for visits with your children': A stepmom shares the other side of the maintenance story

A legal expert provides the following advice:

Dear Anonymous Mom,

We can absolutely understand your anger and frustration; experiencing rejection from your biological father, which is undoubtedly painful. However, it’s great that you are looking out for your son, and tried to do as much as possible for him to have a relationship with his grandfather.

Even though your attempt wasn’t successful, it’s commendable that you made an effort to reach out. You can only do so much.

With regards to recouping maintenance for all those years, your biological father was not supporting you financially; we are very sorry to say that you don’t have a strong legal leg to stand on. While the law clearly states parents must support their child financially, which will be in proportion to what the parents earn at the time, that duty falls away after a child turns 18 and can financially look after themselves. They are then regarded as a legal adult and seen as 'self-sufficient'.

An exception, in this case, would be if an 18-year-old is attending a tertiary institution or still needs financial support. They would then have to approach a court to apply for maintenance in their personal capacity.

However, back to your case: should it come to light that your mother took your biological father to maintenance court after they separated and a court order was made for your biological father to pay maintenance but failed to do so, then there is a chance of making a case to recoup some of that money.

As always, it’s best to seek legal advice and get a lawyer to look into your case properly and guide you through the process.

It’s also worth mentioning that stories like yours help to highlight the issue of maintenance claims in South Africa and might motivate single parents to seek justice and support for their children.

Not only has recent changes to the Maintenance Amendment Act made it possible for maintenance beneficiaries to submit applications in areas where they work and not only where they and their children reside, but it also states defaulters will be punished severely. Parents who skip maintenance payments can now be tracked by cellphone service providers and could face jail time or be blacklisted by creditors. 

While you may not have received the answer you were looking for, please take comfort in knowing that a single parent reading this might be inspired to keep fighting for what’s right for their child.

Thank you for sharing!

Yours in Law,

Luzanne Kinnear

Legal Professional


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