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My Child is 18, Do I Still Have to Pay Child Maintenance?

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My Child is 18, Do I Still Have to Pay Child Maintenance?

Child Maintenance

It is a common misunderstanding by South African parents that they would pay maintenance until their child turns 18 but this is not always the case.

The legal obligation of a parent to pay child maintenance after their child turns 18 is an interesting but clear-cut discussion.  If the child is 18 and self-supporting, no maintenance is needed. If the child is 18 and not self-supporting, they likely have a right to maintenance. 

Paying Maintenance According to Your Means

Child maintenance must be paid. The amount of maintenance that a parent may be obliged to pay varies on several factors, this is also applicable to the time for which a parent will be obliged to pay maintenance.

Read more on How to Calculate your Child’s Maintenance 

It is the legal obligation of all parents to take care of their children. In certain instances, one parent may approach a court and request that the other parent pays maintenance for a child or even children.

South African law expects parents to provide support to their children according to their means. This means that parents are obliged to pay only what they can afford.

In some cases, you may have heard that a parent is ordered to pay amounts of more than R 10 000.00 a month towards the maintenance of a child.

Yet, in other cases, you may have heard that one parent was only ordered to pay R 1 000.00 or even less towards the child’s maintenance.

This is due to the parents’ means being taken into consideration. Therefore, even if a child requires exorbitant amounts of money for support, parents may not be responsible for paying these amounts if they cannot afford it.

In practice this means that one parent may be obliged to pay more child maintenance than the other, especially in instances where the means of the parents vary.

For example, if one parent is a business owner who makes a lot of money, the court will factor in his company expenses as well as everyday living costs in determining how much of maintenance he would be obliged to pay.

Maintenance Order 

There’re many instances where a parent is forced to approach the court and request that the other parent pay maintenance towards the child’s expenses.

This process usually culminates in the court granting a Maintenance Order.

This could be done either by way of agreement, usually when the parties are getting a divorce or even by way of legal proceedings that solely deals with the issue of maintenance.

When a court is deliberating on a divorce matter, and if a minor child is involved, the court will issue a Maintenance Order.

These Orders will typically include the date on which maintenance will end. In terms of our law, a court should not grant a divorce until it is convinced that the interests of the minor child are protected.

Maintenance orders are usually straightforward to allow for parties to clearly understand their obligations in terms of the order.

This prevents unnecessary disputes at a later stage which would incur the parties’ legal fees and would take several weeks and in some cases months to resolve.

The Drafting of The Maintenance Order

When the parents of the decide on a Maintenance Order, it is of the utmost importance to keep it specific but simple.

Further into the future, if there are issues (and there usually are) if the wording of your Maintenance Order is imprecise, unclear, ambiguous, if could take weeks to resolve a maintenance disagreement.

This would be just because some part of the Maintenance Order was weak and so could be challenged.

Spending time on getting it right in the beginning will save you time in the future.

Do I Stop Paying Maintenance When My Child Turns 18?

As you have probably realised, age is not a deciding factor as to when you would stop paying child maintenance.

This is very much dependent on the wording of the court order: A key element is the child being self-supportive.

Let’s say there is a Court Order that indicates that child maintenance must be paid until a child reaches 21. However, when the child turns 18, they have already begun work and are earning a substantially higher salary than the parent.

That means they are able to be self-supporting. Hence, a parent may approach the court to have the order set aside.

Who Do I Pay Maintenance to When My Child Turns 18?

Child maintenance is for the benefit of the child, not the benefit of the other parent. However, in many cases, there are children who are 18 or older but still under the care of a parent.

As they are not yet able to care for themselves, maintenance in terms of the Court Order should still be paid to the parent who is caring for the child.

In cases, where the child is staying away from their parent, either for university or work, but in circumstances where they are still not self-supporting, then it can be agreed between the parties that the child would still receive maintenance, but directly from the paying parent.

What if, the child turns 18 and the Maintenance Order no longer provides for the child, but the child is still not self-supporting. Then the child – now in the capacity of an adult – can approach the Court for maintenance from their parents.

Note that the onus is on the child/adult to do this as the Parents may not apply to the Court for maintenance on behalf of their adult child.

When Does the Maintenance Order Lapse?

If the order for maintenance stipulates that the maintenance will end when the child reaches the age of 18, the Court Order will lapse the moment the child reaches that age.

Another age that is sometimes specified in the Order is when a child reaches the age of 21, in this case, the same principle would apply.

In some cases, a Maintenance Order may even state that maintenance will be paid until the child or children become self-supporting.

This often poses a problem as the determination of when a child is deemed ‘self-supporting’ will vary based on certain factors.

If a Maintenance Order fails to mention when the child maintenance comes to an end, the obligation of the parent to pay maintenance would lapse when the child attains majority, i.e. when the child turns 18.

When Does a Child Become Self-Supporting?

If a child leaves home, finds employment, and can attend to all of their own expenses, they would most likely be deemed self-supporting.

However, where a child is still living with a parent but is able to earn a decent income, there can be some debate about whether a child is self-supporting.

Irrespective of this, the Maintenance Order will be valid until the specified conditions in the Order are met.

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