'The child is not mine. How do I claim back 16 years of maintenance?'

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How do I claim money from this untrustworthy woman?
How do I claim money from this untrustworthy woman?

Imagine raising a child as your own for many years, only to one day discover that this teen is not your biological child. No doubt it would create many conflicting emotions, and responses.

The reader unfortunately suffered this very experience, but appears relieved to not have the responsibility anymore. He is also asking how to claim back the money he spent on the child over the years.

We spoke to a lawyer for some advice, but first, read his story here...

"I was involved with a woman whom we had a son. He is now 16. I raised the boy financially and he would visit me and my family on weekends and holidays.

I also have two other sons from another woman.  

In 2019 I approached the mother of our son that I want us to perform paternity test as I had noticed some qualities in the boy that did not meet my family history or behavior.

Initially the mother of our son agreed for the test, then she became reluctant and dodgy. She ultimately sent me an SMS that there is no need to waste resources as the result would come back negative, as the child is not mine.

She further told me that when we met she was 10 days late and was afraid to disclose.

She was sent to my family as per African tradition and I accepted the damages. When the baby was born he was registered under my surname and I carried on with maintenance, not enforced by Court. 

She apologised and asked me how much I need as a reimbursement for the 16 years of support. I couldn't quantify the amount and I am still shocked and traumatized.

In December 2020 we agreed to meet at Home Affairs with the child so we could change him a surname from my clan name to hers. The child was there and we never had a conversation. The surname was successfully changed.

I'm happy that the boy is no longer using my surname.

Now, how do I claim money from this untrustworthy woman?"

"The boy was lucky..."

Linda Matshoza, a legal professional at LAW FOR ALL, offers some legal advice, but also adds some thoughts for this father to consider.  

"You'll agree that being a dad is probably one of the most rewarding roles a man can play," she says. The truth is that kids do better with a father figure in their lives. Many studies indicate a present and engaged father is vital for a child's development.

In fact, research shows that kids who grow up with a dad are less likely to drop out of school or end up in jail. They are more likely to have a successful career and healthy and stable relationships when they grow up.

"The boy was lucky to have you in his life for the last 16 years," Matshoza says.

"One can only imagine that discovering the truth, that the boy you raised isn't, in fact, your child, must be a huge disappointment. We're so sorry to hear this."

"It must be a big blow for your son to lose the only father he knows, as well," she adds. 

Matshoza says that from his correspondence, it is evident that this father loved and financially supported the child.

"There was never a need for his mother to go to the maintenance court to claim payments. You honoured what you believed to be your duty and showed tremendous reverence for your traditions and customary laws," she points out. 

Nonetheless, it is very unfair to mislead someone and expect them to financially support a child that is not their own. "Maybe things would have been very different had she been honest with you and the boy in the first place," Matshoza says. 

No maintenance order

Matshoza says that to claim back the financial contributions made, can be tricky without a maintenance order in place. But it isn't impossible.

"You will need to speak to a lawyer to determine the amount you can claim back. If you retained the proof of payments made over the years, this would indeed be very helpful. Or if you made electronic payments, speak to your bank to see if you can pull statements that reflect the expenses," she advises. 

She reminds him to keep in mind that going to court to claim can cost a lot of money in legal fees and take years to be resolved.

He only has 3 years to claim back the money paid in maintenance, calculated from the day he discovered that he isn't the child's father. 

Assistance from the elders

Matshoza suggests he consider speaking to his elders or family, and ask for their assistance in the matter.

She adds that "if this is your custom, they can negotiate with the mother and her family, on your behalf. If this approach works in your favour, it will definitely be less traumatic and less costly for everyone involved."  

"No matter how you decide to approach getting refunded, losing a child this way isn't easy, and getting your money back won't make you hurt any less," she says.

"The poor boy has lost the only father he knows and one can only hope that someone will be a positive influence in his life. Hopefully you will both be able to move and look forward in 2021," she says.  

For more on maintenance issues, see #MaintenanceMatters: Everything you need to know about child maintenance

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