Checkmate for bad dads who don't pay up

There will be no escape for deadbeat dads who duck their maintenance payments once an innovative - and workable - plan kicks in, a Durban mother said on Friday.

Not only will the new plan help track down men - even those planning to flee the country - but it will also get them to cough up their arrears.

"This is going to aid countless thousands of mothers and their children," said mother-of-three Rose Freeman, who knows from personal experience how families can suffer when fathers shirk their maintenance responsibilities.

"I'm a statistic myself and realised that there had to be some simple, effective method to trace maintenance defaulters and get them to pay."

The most common problem facing mothers who single-handedly have to carry the financial burden once the defaulter disappears, is getting information about the missing fathers, Freeman said.

"They usually have long-abandoned or false addresses or non-functional contact numbers and, unless the defaulter is employed by the same company as before the divorce or separation, there is little chance of contact."

Freeman says that unlike other debts where a man faces the prospect of penalties and being listed by credit agencies, he gets off scot-free when it comes to his maintenance arrears.

"He can move on with his life and continue to get credit for clothes and. furniture. And he can take out big loans for cars and houses while the children he brought into the world and who he is responsible for, continue to suffer."

Her plan, which launches on Saturday, will correct this situation, she says.

Freeman's concept, which she has patented, is called Checkmate. It is a national database listing the names of defaulters, and the idea is that businesses, banks and other organisations will be able to use Checkmate, just as they do with credit agencies, to see if the person making an application for credit or a loan is listed - and if he owes money to his children.

"If his name is listed, then they know he owes his family money - and he won't get credit unless he pays his outstanding maintenance," said Freeman.

Checkmate has the backing of several key organisations, including the Campus Law Clinic at the University of Natal in Durban, which aims to help lobby parliament to make it compulsory for businesses to use Checkmate.

"Maintenance issues are not priorities at some courts because of the shortage of magistrates and, because of this, it's easier for defaulters to get away with owing money," said Moni Letsipa, the project manager for gender and children's rights at the clinic.

"Checkmate will definitely work and ease the load of maintenance officers, who will also be able to access information on the database," Letsipa said that even before it becomes compulsory for companies to use Checkmate, socially responsible businesses should start to use the service.

"What type of a society do we have when we are raising children who cannot afford certain things because their parents do not want to meet their responsibilities?" she asked.

Cookie Edwards, co-ordinator of the KZN Network on Violence Against Women, hailed Checkmate on Friday as a "workable and excellent idea".

Freeman says Checkmate will also be open to schools wanting to run checks, as well as to prospective employers. Government agencies, including those at border posts will also be able to access Checkmate.

Women wanting to track down former partners will pay a nominal fee to enter information about defaulters. They will have to provide the necessary legal paperwork.

Businesses will have to pay a fee to use Checkmate, and Freeman plans to make a special arrangement with maintenance courts.

She said it would take about six weeks to create the database and she hoped Checkmate would eventually become an international service.


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