Family attorney Surprise Mnisi says that it’s important to emphasise that a maintenance order issued by the court carries just as much weight as any other order of the court and should never be taken lightly by any parent.

“A court order means that the court has ruled with regard to a particular aspect and the decision that the court has taken is standing until it is challenged in a higher court and possibly set aside. It requires compliance from the person on which it is placed,” Mnisi explains.

He goes on to explain the penalties a parent could face if they do not comply with a maintenance court order.

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You could face a maximum of six month’ imprisonment without trial

When you fail to comply with a court order of any kind, including an order to pay a specific amount of money towards the maintenance of you child, you will be in contempt of court.

When this happens, Mnisi explains that you could face a sentence of direct imprisonment for a maximum of six months without trial, specifically on the basis that one has failed to comply with a court order.

You could be lumped with a garnishee order

If it is found that a person has failed to comply with a maintenance order, even though they have the resources to comply, then they could face a garnishee order of an amount determined by the court.

“The person who the order is in favour of can apply for an enforcement of the court order. This is when a warrant of execution can be issued by the court and the sheriff can contact the employer of the maintenance defaulter and have their salary attached,” Mnisi explains.

Your credit rating could take a hit

Two years ago, the Maintenance Act was amended and allows for defaulters to be classified in the same way as defaulter of other debts.

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“In terms of the amendment to the Act, the maintenance court has the powers to submit the name of the maintenance defaulter to have them listed on the ITC or credit bureau,” Mnisi explains.

He says that part of the reason for this amendment was that the court was cautious of sentencing someone to direct imprisonment because of the prospect of the convict losing their job, exacerbating the problem.

“The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, working hand in hand with the Department of Social Development, put forward a bill proposal in Parliament that the defaulters of maintenance be classified as any other debt defaulter. The proposal was subsequently accepted,” he explains.