Written by Andy Kabeng
President Jacob Zuma has, on the 7th of September 2015, signed into law the much supported Maintenance Amendment Act, Nr 9 of 2015. This legislation means, for those individuals who have, in the past, gotten away lightly with non-payment of maintenance orders, may now find themselves listed with the credit bureau and unable to obtain credit whilst still owing maintenance.
The Amendment Act which seeks to further regulate the procedure for the granting of maintenance orders and the enforcement thereof received huge support from members of the National Assembly. This Amendment Act aims to ease the frustration of many single parents in having to wait for months in order to settle the maintenance claim. The Amendment Act provides that maintenance courts must conclude maintenance enquiries as speedily as possible and that courts must ensure that postponements are limited both in number and duration.
The Amendment Act further seeks to ease the burden on maintenance officers in the investigation of complaints. It provides that where a maintenance officer has failed, after all reasonable efforts to locate the whereabouts of a person against whom maintenance is sought, such maintenance officer may apply to the court for an order directing electronic communication service providers to give the court the contact details of the person against whom maintenance is sought.
A provision of the Amendment Act which will not be lightly received by those who have defaulted on any maintenance order, is the provision contained in Section 11 of the Amendment Act. Section 11 amends Section 26 of the principal Act to provide that where an order for enforcement has been granted against a respondent who has failed to satisfy a maintenance order, the maintenance officer must then furnish the particulars of the Respondent together with a copy of the enforcement order to any business which has as its object the granting of credit or is involved in the credit rating of persons.
Further, the Amendment Act, has also extended the period of imprisonment, for those found guilty of non-payment in terms of any maintenance order. The period of such imprisonment has been extended from a period not exceeding 1 year to a period not exceeding 3 years.
The provisions of the above clause were highly welcomed by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. When the Deputy Minister Introduced the Bill to the Act, he emphasised that maintenance, and especially child maintenance, was one of the department’s priorities.
The provisions of the Maintenance Amendment Act may be construed as long due in a society where the rate of divorce and the number of single parents is at an alarming high. According to the 2011 census, more than 48% of children in South Africa live with only one parent and more than 90% of maintenance defaulters are men. The South African Institute of Race Relations has reported that since 2001, the number of children receiving social grants has increased 13 times.
Further comments in relation to the amendments were that the amendments are in the best interest of children and families, who are struggling to make ends meet while absconding parents are not paying the maintenance which they should be paying.
In closing, the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitution Development has expressly stated that one of the major aims of the Maintenance Amendment Act was to force parents to pay maintenance towards their children.
The above statement by the Deputy Minister, really arouses certain questions of concern in relation to the society we currently live in. Should parents really be threatened with imprisonment before they can assume their parental responsibilities? Will the Amendment Act be the solution for the many struggling children and single parents in South Africa?