On 9 September 2015, the Maintenance Amendment Act (Act No. 9 of 2015) became law. The Act, aims to take a harder line with maintenance defaulters and is definitely a step in the right direction for those trying to secure maintenance orders. The objectives of the Act are promising, but whether the magistrate courts will be able to effectively enforce the changes remains to be seen.
In brief, the changes include the following:
- a complainant can now approach court in respect of a verbal or written agreement reached in which no existing maintenance order exists;
- complaints filed with a maintenance officer can be issued out of the jurisdiction of the court where the complainant is employed as opposed to only where he/she resides;
- maintenance applications can now be served via electronic email as opposed to only in person by the sheriff of the court, the maintenance investigator or the police.
- should a maintenance officer be unable to locate a person against whom a complaint is lodged, a court may order cell phone service providers to hand over any information pertaining to that person to assist in their location. This order will only be granted if the court is satisfied that all efforts were made in the ordinary course to locate the person;
- interim maintenance orders may now be made in the event that an enquiry is postponed, a court order for maintenance does not already exist and sufficient grounds exist to indicate a person is legally liable to maintain the complainant and undue hardship otherwise result;
- should a person default on their maintenance order, the court can hand over their personal information to the credit bureau, thus possibly preventing any further credit being granted to this person whilst they owe maintenance;
- criminal charges may be brought against a person who fails to pay maintenance as stipulated by their maintenance order and they may face jail time not exceeding three years and/or a fine;
- any person who fails to notify the court of residential and/or employment changes shall be found guilty of an offence and may face jail time not exceeding a year, and/or a fine.
The Maintenance Amendment Act aims to improve service delivery to parties seeking maintenance for themselves and/or their dependents. It is hoped that by tightening the belt on maintenance defaulters that they will think twice before electing not to comply with maintenance orders.