'He pays very late and only when reminded': What to do about late maintenance payments

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"If he does not comply with the letter, which essentially is a warning, then she can lodge a dispute with the Maintenance Court where the child resides". (Magnet.me/Unsplash)
"If he does not comply with the letter, which essentially is a warning, then she can lodge a dispute with the Maintenance Court where the child resides". (Magnet.me/Unsplash)

It's that time of the year where money is a particularly sensitive topic, and issues surrounding maintenance is no exception. 

For one local mom, getting her ex-husband to pay maintenance on time has been a longstanding problem, one that she hopes to find a solution to in the new year. 

Also see: #MaintenanceMatters: Everything you need to know about child maintenance

She writes: 

I have one son aged nine, and he is autistic. Since he was born, I've been a single parent, and we stay in the Western Cape. Being autistic, my son has a lot of needs.
My ex-husband lives in the Northern Cape. He owns a fishing shop and is a local businessman, so he is not poor. 
He only started paying maintenance for the past two years after I got a court order. Every month, I message him for money because he always pays very late. 
It's extremely frustrating to ask him for money every month. 
I  feel so violated and want to take action. What can I do? 

'Many parties find themselves in a similar plight'

"Maintenance is the obligation to provide another person, usually minor children, with living expenses and necessities. The obligation to maintain minor children rests with both parents according to their proportionate share," says Durban-based attorney Atisha Ghela, who specialises in family law. 

In her experience, Ghela tells us that reminder messages regarding maintenance seem to be a common problem. 

"Often, many parties find themselves in a similar plight whereby the other parent will only pay on a 'reminder' by the primary resident parent. Not only is this frustrating, but it is often used by the other parent as a means of psychological control in that they want to be reminded to pay". 

She says that since the mom has already obtained a court order, her child's father "must comply," and there is no need for her to remind him to pay. 

"The order will dictate the day to pay as well as the amount to pay and very often the method of payment, i.e. EFT to the mother, cash etc. It is non-negotiable; the order must be complied with," she urges. 

She also suggests the mom ensure that the father has a copy of the order. 

"If he does not have a copy of the order, one must be served on him or his appointed address formally," she advises. 

Also read: How do I claim maintenance money?

Legal solutions

Ghela says that the mom has two legal solutions to her problem. 

"She can first send him a firm letter via her attorneys for the father to abide by the court order timeously with a warning that his non-compliance will be deemed in contempt of the court order and further reminding him that she is neither obligated to tell him to abide nor will she do so in future. A copy of the court order must be attached to this letter as well," she notes. 

If this proves unsuccessful, the mom may approach a Maintenance Court in her area. 

"If he does not comply with the letter, which essentially is a warning, then she can lodge a dispute with the Maintenance Court where the child resides. Maintenance Court will ensure that the order is abided by the father without her having to remind him. She is able to approach Maintenance Court with or without legal representation. Our courts view such conduct by parties obligated to pay in a very serious light," Ghela advises. 

If possible, the attorney also suggests that the family seek therapy to improve "communication and expectations". 

"The fact that the father continually pays when reminded means that he is aware of the order and the obligation to pay. His conduct is to simply frustrate the mother. This is probably one of the reasons the parties are no longer together and why communication post-divorce is often seen as intolerable when minor children are born of the union. The family unit should seek therapy as well for better communication and expectations". 

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