Skip to main content

Child Maintenance Will 

When you become a parent, you automatically have the obligation to look after the child, as set out in article 27(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). This is known as “a common law duty” and is set out in more detail in Section 15(3)(a) of the Maintenance Act (99 of 1998). The primary duty of parents would be to provide financially for their children from birth until the child becomes self-supporting, regardless of whether the child was born lawfully or out of wedlock. If one of the parents dies, the surviving parent is primarily responsible for raising the child. In principle, the obligation of a parent to support a child only ends in the instance of the child’s death (and not by the parent’s death), since a child has a right to claim maintenance from the deceased parent’s estate. Such a claim has priority above any other bequests.

If the deceased parent’s estate is not enough to cover the child’s support, or if there is no estate and the remaining parent is unable to support the child, the duty of support could be extended to the child’s grandparents. South African law places an obligation on siblings to support each other. This means that if the remaining parent or the grandparents are unable to support the child and there is not enough in the estate either, the siblings will have to support the dependent child. A sibling must be destitute when claiming support from siblings, and the extent of the duty will depend on the respective means of the siblings.

A guardian could be appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of the child. In South Africa, guardianship refers to the legal relationship between a guardian and a minor (or incapacitated adult). Guardianship of minors refers to the legal relationship between a guardian and someone under the age of 18. The guardian would be responsible for the maintenance, care and upbringing of the child and has the authority to make decisions on their behalf.

South African law recognises the right of every child to an adequate standard of living. This means that appropriate measures (such as grants) must be made available to assist parents and other people responsible for the maintenance of the child according to this said right to an adequate standard of living, which also applies where either one or both parents have passed away and there is no other responsible and financially able person to support the child.

There is no single or specific law that authorises courts to grant an order that would oblige the state to provide support to children in need of maintenance. The implication is that government institutions have discretion over the decision to provide children’s grants. However, art 27(4) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child does oblige state parties to “take all appropriate measures to secure the recovery of maintenance for the child from the parents or others responsible for maintenance”. This means that Government could use both national and international measures to secure the recovery of maintenance for needy children. For this purpose, the maintenance laws and maintenance courts can assist in the implementation and enforcement of maintenance orders. Legislation include Case Law and:

  • The Constitution
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  • The Maintenance Act 99 of 1998

Section 15(1) of the Maintenance Act states that child maintenance is the common law obligation of both parents (section 15(3)(a)). Maintenance will be distributed between the parents in accordance with their respective financial means.  The following four requirements should be met:

  1. The court should have the authority to hear the matter;
  2. There must be a legal duty for child maintenance;
  3. The child to be maintained must be in need of support; and
  4. The person responsible for the maintenance must have the means to do so.

If one of the above requirements is not met, the court will not grant an order of maintenance.

The Constitution provides that every child has the right to parental or family care, or to alternative care if the child had to be removed from the family environment. It also states that a child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services, with the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child. The criteria for determining the best interests of the child will apply in each instance, including a child’s right to maintenance.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by South Africa in 1995. Article 3 provides that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions where children are concerned, whether undertaken by public/private social welfare institutions, courts of law, legislative bodies or administrative authorities. This means that special maintenance grants from the state children who are in need of support may be eligible for.

In instances where a child has a maintenance claim against the estate, the Maintenance Act does not provide for such a right/claim and cannot be relied on. Under such circumstances, children whose parents have passed away will not have protection under the Maintenance Act. These children will, however, be automatically protected according to general South African law, in which case a maintenance claim can be lodged against the executor of the deceased parent’s estate.

The Children’s Act covers almost every aspect relating to children. It sets the principle of “best interests of the child” and describes the parental responsibilities and rights a person may have in respect of the child, including the right to care for the child and to contribute to the maintenance of the child.  The Children’s Act empowers the children’s court to issue a contribution order against the parents of the child, which functions in effect the same as a maintenance order. This Act read with the Maintenance Act stipulates that both parents have an obligation to support their children in accordance with their respective financial means. The Children’s Act further brings South Africa’s child care and protection law in line with the Constitution.

In the instance where a child is claiming maintenance from a deceased parent’s estate, or should a dispute arise between the surviving parent and the executor representing the deceased parent’s estate about the amount of maintenance to be paid, the matter will have to be resolved by an independent professional before it goes to trial. Ultimately, after considering all relevant circumstances, the court will base its decision on what it believes is in the child’s best interests. We recommend that you obtain the services of a legal professional to guide you through the process. AED Attorneys can assist you in getting the paperwork right, handling the estate and ensure that the child’s interests are taken into consideration.

AED Attorneys understands that every situation is unique, and although they strive to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate at the time of publishing, it cannot be guaranteed to be without errors or omissions. As a result, AED Attorneys, its employees, independent contractors, associates or third parties will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions in this article, which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.