Mom vs. Dad: know your rights
Don't let the ins and outs of maintenance and visitation scare you.
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You fall in love. Maybe you get married, maybe you don’t. You create life together, and a beautiful child is born. For whatever reason, though, the relationship with your partner does not work out. You split up.

But beyond the emotional repercussions of a family splitting up, there is one more element that is – most often – the primary Maintenance for mothers source of massive contention between parents who have gone their separate ways: money.

As difficult as it may be to put aside your emotional heartache or anger towards each other, it is vitally important that parents put their children first, at every step. Perhaps he cheated.

Maybe you did. Maybe you just don’t love each other anymore. Maybe you’ve both reached the end of your tether. The reasons why you are splitting up have nothing to do with your children, but how you split up has a lasting effect on them.

Bertus Preller, a Cape Town-based divorce and family lawyer, advises, “Always put the interests of the children first. The goal for divorced or separated parents should always be to maintain the best co-parenting relationships possible by moving past previous relationship issues and focusing on their children’s wellbeing. Focusing on the children instead of the relationship problems can help divorced couples to be better parents, not messed up parents.”

Read: Divorce is worse on children

Maintenance and access

It is important to note that maintenance and access are treated separately in terms of South African law. This means that both parents have a right to see their children whether or not maintenance is paid.

It also means that one parent cannot withhold access to the child or children because maintenance has not been paid. When a divorce is finalised in court, part of the court proceedings will centre on the creation of a parenting plan.

A parenting plan should exist whether or not you were married. This parenting plan will outline which parent the child lives with, the amount of time the child will spend with each parent, how maintenance will be paid, how you will go about making major decisions about the child (this can include things like education and how the child will be raised) and how parents will work out any major disagreements.

If your parenting plan is part of your divorce proceedings, the court will be able to enforce it, and treat transgressions as a criminal offence.

Money matters

Child maintenance is defined as the legal obligation of both parents to make regular payments to sustain their child or children. This means that both parents have a duty to pay for the upkeep of their child or children. Moreover, if one or both parents remarry, this has no effect on their parental responsibilities.

Maintenance is calculated according to the needs of the child or children, and in terms of the parents’ individual incomes. This means that if one parent earns more than the other parent, they will pay more towards the upkeep of their children.

Maintenance agreements cannot be changed if one parent remarries, but can be changed if a parent loses their job or other circumstances change. A maintenance agreement will form part of your divorce proceedings and parenting plan. If you were not married, you can set up a maintenance order through your local Magistrate’s Court.

Single parenthood: Your legal ABCs

Applying for a maintenance order is free, and you do not need a lawyer to represent you. Take along your child’s birth certificate, your identity document and a breakdown of your monthly expenses. If you can, try and include documents that prove your living costs, such as utilities accounts, receipts and other important documentation.

The Magistrate’s Court will issue a summons that tells both parents when they need to appear in court to discuss the matter. If parents agree to the maintenance amount, then the court will sign the maintenance order, which means that maintenance must be paid.

If there is a disagreement between parents, then there will be follow-up court appearances, which require that both parents give evidence and provide proof of their respective standpoints.

Above maintenance and access, and most importantly, successful co-parentingrests entirely on communication. By actively sharing information with each other, both parents will enable easy communication. And it’s that communication and strong relationship that a child will remember forever, not how much money was in the bank. If possible, make arrangements for schools to send academic reports to both parents.

By sharing photos, talking openly with one another, and communicating as best you can, you will be laying the foundations for your children to grow up happy, healthy and firmly founded in love.

If possible, make it a point to attend parent-teacher meetings together, and both be present for the all-important birthday parties, sports days and other events. Your children will not remember how much you spent on school fees, but they will always remember both their parents’ love.

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