Every magistrate’s court in South Africa is within its area of jurisdiction a maintenance court for purposes of the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.
Any party to the proceedings under the Maintenance Act may be represented by a legal representative.
Lodging your complaint
To commence proceedings in an application for maintenance or an application for the substitution or discharge of an existing maintenance order, the applicant (or complainant as he is called in the Maintenance Act) must lodge a complaint in writing with the maintenance officer at the maintenance court, to the effect that
- the person legally liable to maintain the complainant or person (for example, dependent child) on whose behalf maintenance is claimed is failing to do so; or
- good cause or reason exists for the substitution (increase or decrease) or discharge of an existing maintenance order.
Applying for a maintenance order
In the first instance the complaint must be made in form A of the Annexure to the Maintenance Regulations (GN R1361/15-11-1999). The complainant must state in the complaint the reason why the person from whom maintenance is claimed is legally liable to maintain the person in respect of whom maintenance is claimed. The following people have reciprocal duties to maintain each other:
Parents & children
Both parents of a child have a duty to maintain the child according to their respective means. The duty exists irrespective of whether the child is adopted, born in or out of wedlock, or born of the first or a subsequent marriage.
When the court makes an order in respect of the maintenance of a child it will take into account inter alia
- what the reasonable maintenance needs of the child are;
- that both parents jointly have a duty to support a child; and
- that the parents’ respective shares of their obligation are apportioned between them according to their means.
Husband & wife
At common law this duty comes to an end on divorce. However, in terms of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979, the court granting the decree of divorce may make an order directing one spouse to pay maintenance to the other spouse after divorce, either by agreement between the parties or, in the absence of such an agreement, after taking into account various factors set out in s 7(2) of the Divorce Act. If no such order was granted at the time of the divorce, the divorcé cannot at a later stage approach the maintenance court for an order directing his ex-spouse to pay him maintenance. However, if such an order was granted by the divorce court, the divorcé may approach the maintenance court at a later stage to apply for a substitution (increase or decrease) or the discharge of the existing order, provided that good cause exists for such a substitution or discharge.
Application for substitution or discharge
In the second instance, ie where application is made for the substitution or discharge of an existing maintenance order, the complaint must be made in form B of the annexure to the Regulations Relating to Maintenance (GN R1361/15-11-1999). The complainant must state the alleged reason or cause on which he relies for such substitution or discharge of the maintenance order.
In both instances, ie when application is made for a maintenance order or for the substitution or discharge of an existing order, the complainant must provide full details of his assets, income and the monthly expenditure in respect of himself and the children on whose behalf maintenance is claimed, supported by documentary proof. This information must be attested to under oath. Form A and form B to the Regulations Relating to Maintenance contain all the necessary information, including a comprehensive list of monthly expenses. The attorney should assist his client to complete the relevant form in full to avoid the matter being referred back to the complainant for further information, which will result in delay. Once the relevant form has been completed, it must be handed to the maintenance officer at the maintenance court who will issue a reference number for the particular matter.
Once the complaint has been lodged with the maintenance officer, the latter will investigate the complaint. For purposes of the investigation, the maintenance officer may subpoena both the complainant and the defendant to appear before him on a date and time mentioned in the subpoena and to provide, inter alia, information regarding the financial position of the people affected by the application. In practice, to save costs, a subpoena is normally served on the defendant only, whereas the complainant receives mere written notification of the date and time of the investigation.
The investigation affords the parties’ attorneys the opportunity to exchange information regarding the maintenance needs of the people in respect of whom maintenance is claimed and the financial position of the parties. Settlement negotiations often take place at the informal inquiry. The normal rules relating to discovery do not apply in the maintenance court. The attorney should, therefore, at the investigation make use of the opportunity to obtain as much information as possible from the opposing party, necessary for the preparation of the inquiry (trial). It is advisable that a list of the documents and information required for purposes of such preparation be prepared in advance and handed to the opponent at the investigation. The magistrate may be requested to warn the party requested to furnish the information and documents, within a certain period of time.
After the maintenance officer has investigated the complaint he may institute a formal inquiry, which is in effect a maintenance trial before a magistrate of the maintenance court. A date for the inquiry must be arranged with the maintenance officer and magistrate. The magistrate will warn both parties to be present at the inquiry.
The maintenance officer may subpoena any person to appear before the maintenance court on the day of the inquiry and to give evidence under oath or affirmation, or to produce any book, document or statement relating to the financial position of any party affected by the legal liability of a person to maintain any other person. This includes full particulars of the person’s earnings signed by his employer. If the attorney of any of the parties to the proceedings requires a person to be subpoenaed to give evidence regarding the financial position of either of the parties or to produce a book, document or statement as referred to above, he should approach the maintenance officer and request that a subpoena be issued in respect of such a person.
At the maintenance inquiry the court may also examine any person who is present at the inquiry although he was not subpoenaed as a witness, and may recall and re-examine any person already examined.
The normal rules of evidence applicable in respect of civil proceedings in the magistrate’s court apply in respect of the inquiry.
At the inquiry documentary evidence in the form of a statement in writing by any person other than the person against whom a maintenance order may be made may be placed before the court as evidence, provided that a copy of the statement together with any documents referred to in the statement are served on the person against whom a maintenance order may be made at least 14 days before the date on which the statement is to be submitted as evidence. Such person may then, at least seven days before the commencement of the inquiry, object to the statement being submitted as evidence.
It is important to note that the maintenance court may take into account any evidence in any proceedings in respect of the existing maintenance order or accept as prima facie proof any finding of fact in any such proceedings. In other words, evidence led and findings of fact in a divorce action may at a later stage be used in proceedings in the maintenance court. The record of such evidence or findings shall on its production at the inquiry be admissible as evidence, and so will any copy or transcription or extract from it certified as a true copy, transcription or extract by the registrar or clerk of the court or any other officer having custody of the records of the court where the existing maintenance order in question was issued.
After consideration of the evidence at the inquiry the maintenance court may decide as follows:
- Where no maintenance order is in force, the court may make a maintenance order against the person proved to be legally liable to maintain the person in respect of whom maintenance was claimed. The court may be requested to order that the maintenance be paid in at the maintenance court where the complainant will then have to collect the payments from month to month, or that the maintenance be paid into an account at a financial institution by stop order or in another manner.
- Where no maintenance order is in force the court may also make an order, in the case where maintenance is to be paid in respect of a child, for the payment to the mother of the child of such sum of money together with interest thereon, as the mother is in the opinion of the maintenance court entitled to recover from the person in respect of expenses incurred by the mother in connection with the birth of the child and expenditure incurred by the mother in connection with the maintenance of the child from the date of the child’s birth to the date of the inquiry.
- Where there is already a maintenance order in force, the court may substitute the existing maintenance order with a new order or discharge the existing maintenance order, or the court may make no order.
Maintenance orders by consent
A maintenance order may also be obtained by consent.
The person against whom the maintenance order is sought must consent in writing to the maintenance order being granted. A copy of the written consent must be handed to the maintenance officer at the inquiry. Where such written consent has been obtained it is not necessary for the person against whom the order is to be made to appear in court at the inquiry. An example of such written consent can be found in part A of form G of the annexure to the Maintenance Regulations. A copy of the order made against the person not present at the inquiry must be delivered or tendered to him by a maintenance officer, police officer, sheriff or maintenance investigator. The return of any such officer, sheriff or investigator showing that a copy was delivered or tendered to the person shall be sufficient proof of the fact that he is aware of the terms of the order.
Maintenance orders by default
A maintenance order may also be obtained by default.
If the person against whom a maintenance order is sought does not appear in court on the date and time mentioned in the subpoena issued for his attendance at the inquiry to give evidence or for the production of a book, document or statement, the complainant may apply to court for an order by default. This application may be brought through the maintenance officer on the date of the inquiry.
The court must be satisfied that the person against whom the order by default is sought has knowledge of the subpoena issued for his attendance at the inquiry and/or to produce any book, document or statement at the inquiry. The return by a maintenance officer, police officer, sheriff or maintenance investigator showing that the subpoena was served on such person will be sufficient proof that he has knowledge of the fact that he had to attend court or that he had to produce a book, document or statement, as the case may be.
The court may request the complainant to adduce evidence in writing or orally, in support of his complaint, before an order by default is granted.
A copy of the order by default must be delivered or tendered to the person against whom the order was granted, by any maintenance officer, sheriff, police officer or maintenance investigator. The return by such officer, sheriff or investigator showing that a copy was delivered or tendered to such person will be sufficient proof that he is aware of the terms of the order.
The person against whom the order by default was granted may apply to the maintenance court for the variation or setting aside of the order within 20 days after the day on which the person became aware of the order by default or within such further period as the maintenance court on good cause shown shall allow. Notice of an application to set aside an order granted by default must be given to the person who lodged the complaint at least 14 days before the day on which the application is to be heard.
Any person not satisfied with the order made by the maintenance court may appeal against such order to the High Court having jurisdiction.
When a person against whom a maintenance order has been made fails to comply with the terms of the order, and the order remains unsatisfied for a period of ten days, the person in whose favour the order was made may apply to the maintenance court where the person against whom the order was made is resident, for authorisation to issue a warrant of execution or for an order for the attachment of emoluments or for an order for the attachment of debt.
An order for the attachment of emoluments may also, on application by the complainant, be granted in respect of future monthly maintenance payments. The effect of such an order is that the defendant’s employer will be directed to deduct the amount mentioned in the order monthly from the defendant’s salary and to pay such amount to the complainant on behalf of the defendant.
Warrant of execution
The warrant of execution must substantially correspond with form L of the annexure to the Maintenance Regulations and must be prepared in triplicate.
The complainant must prepare part A of form L and thereafter the form must be lodged in triplicate with the clerk of the maintenance court concerned, who will issue the warrant of execution by preparing part B of form L of the annexure, provided that he is satisfied that
- authorisation for the issuing of a warrant of execution was granted; and
- the warrant of execution has been properly prepared;
- The clerk of the maintenance court will, after the warrant of execution has been issued,
- return the original warrant of execution and one copy to the complainant; and
- file the second copy of the warrant of execution in the relevant court file.
The original warrant and a copy must be handed to the sheriff or maintenance investigator for execution. Such person shall complete part C and, if applicable, part D of form L of the annexure and return the form to the clerk of the maintenance court, once the warrant has been executed.
The person against whom a warrant of execution had been issued may apply to the maintenance court concerned to have the warrant of execution set aside or suspended, by giving notice of his intention to make the application to the person in whose favour the maintenance order was made at least 14 days prior to the date on which the application is to be heard. The court may at the hearing of the application request either or both parties to adduce evidence in writing or orally, as the court considers necessary.
The court may, when suspending a warrant of execution, grant an order for the attachment of emoluments or the attachment of debt.
Attachment of emoluments
The complainant may request the maintenance court to make an order for the attachment of any emoluments at present or in future owing or accruing to the person against whom the maintenance order was made, for the amount necessary to cover the amount such person has failed to pay, together with interest thereon as well as the costs of the attachment. This order will authorise the employer of the person who failed to comply with the maintenance order to deduct from that person’s emoluments and to pay on that person’s behalf the amount specified in the order until the amount due, plus interest and costs, has been paid in full.
To give effect to the order for attachment of emoluments, the maintenance officer shall within seven days after the order was granted cause a notice with a copy of the order to be served on the employer of the person against whom the order was granted. The notice to the employer must substantially correspond with part A of form O of the annexure to the Maintenance Regulations.
An order for attachment of emoluments may, on application by the person against whom such order was granted, be suspended, amended or rescinded. Notice of such application must be given to the person in whose favour the maintenance order was made at least 14 days prior to the date on which the application is to be heard. The application must substantially correspond with part A of form N of the annexure to the Maintenance Regulations whereas the notice must substantially correspond with part B of the form.
Attachment of debt
The maintenance court may on application by the person in whose favour a maintenance order was made, or when it suspends a warrant of execution, make an order for the attachment of any debt at present or in future owing or accruing to the person against whom the maintenance order was made, for the amount necessary to cover the amount which the creditor failed to pay, together with interest thereon as well as the costs of the attachment. This order will direct the person who has incurred the obligation to make the payment specified in the order.
As in the case of the attachment of emoluments, an order for the attachment of debt may, on application by the person against whom the order was granted, be suspended, amended or rescinded. Notice of such application must be given to the person in whose favour the maintenance order was made at least 14 days prior to the date on which the application is to be heard. The application must substantially comply with part A of form P of the annexure to the Maintenance Regulations, whereas the notice must substantially correspond with part B of the form.