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Who Pays for the Kids in a Divorce?

Children are often the source of bitter arguments between their parents. Fights usually follow one or more of the following themes – Who is to care for them? Who will control them? And - Who is to pay for them?

Let’s just look at the cost factor. What is the cost of raising your child and who should be paying it? This is a topic wreathed in emotion, wrapped in frustration and often a recipe for conflict. Few parents - married or not, together or apart, in love or at war, actually know what it costs to raise a child. Fewer still know who should be paying that cost – Mom or Dad. This causes resentment, confusion and arguments.

There will always be friction over domestic expenditure, as we all have our own ideas as to what is ‘necessary’. However, if you know some of the legal ground rules, you might avoid (or win) some of the arguments. Here are some points to ponder:

1. Don’t be mean - do the best you can.

Parents need to do all they can to give their children the best clothing, food, accommodation, education and health care they can provide - within the bounds of their particular circumstances. We must limit our expenditure (and our demands) to what we (or he) can reasonably afford. So, set your mind on what is possible, not your ‘wish list’.

2. Aim high, make sacrifices.

In assessing affordability or ‘reasonableness’, parents may have to make sacrifices. Just because the cost of, say, a surgical procedure or remedial therapy may not immediately be affordable and may require changes in priorities and some savings, does not mean it is not realistic to want it for your kids and claim a contribution from Dad. However, private schooling is impossible on government school resources.

3. Pay according to your means.

The burden of paying the cost must be shared between the parents – not on a 50/50 basis (as some parents imagine) but according to their comparative means. So if one parent earns more than the other, the more financially fortunate one must bear the larger share of the cost of raising their child. Usually, we apply the ratio between their incomes – if he earns twice as much as she does, he must pay double her share. We look beyond income however; if income fails, assets must be used.

4. Granny and granddad, pay up!

If the parents can’t pay, the grand-parents are next in line. They are being hauled along to Maintenance Court more often these days. But, go easy on the older folks; if they use all their money on your kids, you will have to support them through their old age. Yes, this maintenance thing works both ways! Parents can claim from their kids in some cases.

5. No Maintenance, No Access – Not Legal

You cannot stop Dad from seeing the kids if he fails to make payment of his maintenance, even if you are slaving alone to raise your children. It may not seem fair, but the idea is not to help fathers, it is rather a protection of children’s rights to see their fathers.


Written by Roger Knowles – copyright 2010
Roger Knowles is a Durban-based attorney, a specialist in Divorce and Family Law. See his web sites and