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When couples divorce it’s often the children that feel the brunt of it. Sometimes it’s the other person in the relationship that suffers economically. Hence the reason there’s a legal duty towards maintenance after divorce, which is an obligation to provide for another person.

A child of a divorced couple, for example, may need help with housing, food, education and medical care. Maintenance could also be understood as providing the means for the person to have the necessary essentials. Maintenance duties is based on factors such as blood relationship, adoption, or that two people are/were married to each other.

This duty is also referred to as ‘the duty to maintain’ or ‘the duty to support’.

Which parent supports the child?

If a couple has decided on getting divorced, then the child has to be supported by both the parents, regardless if they’re living together or whether or not the child was adopted. In some cases, the grandparents are also responsible for the child’s maintenance, even if the parents weren’t married. This usually happens if the parents are unable to support the child.

What if the child is living with one parent?

In scenarios where the child is living with one of the parents, it is still the duty of the other parent to also contribute to the maintenance of the child. Many people in South Africa, especially women, face the reality of an ex-spouse who doesn’t live with the child and doesn’t want to pay maintenance. However, there is no legal way out of a parent contributing to a child’s maintenance, even if one of the parents re-marries.

What if you can’t find your non-paying ex-spouse?

If one of the child’s parents refuses to pay and doesn’t make their whereabouts known, then it is the responsibility of the state to claim maintenance from the unpaying parent. Maintenance investigators will try solve the issue and trace the person who is responsible for maintenance.

When does the maintenance end?

Until a child reaches the age of 18, his/her parents or another person (guardian) will have the parental rights and responsibilities for the child. This includes the maintenance of the child. So both the divorced parents of a child will have to contribute to the caring and maintenance of the child at least until he/she becomes an adult.


Anderson, AM. Dodd, A. Roos, MC. 2012. “Everyone’s Guide to South African Law. Third Edition”. Zebra Press. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Family Law, Maintenance. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13/05/2016].

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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