Getting maintenance is an ordeal for many single parents, and all the more so at the beginning of the new school year when the costs of school uniforms, stationery and other expenses multiply.
Furthermore, there are countless single parents who have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the other parent of their child or children.
The Maintenance Amendment Act became law in 2015, with the exception of three sections of the Act, which were not put into operation at the time because they required the making of regulations.
On January 5, Sections 2, 11 and 13(b) of the Amendment Act were put into operation. These sections provide, among others, that parents who default on child maintenance will have their personal information submitted to credit bureaus, and face being blacklisted. This will prevent maintenance defaulters from continuing to receive credit while owing maintenance.
Van der Heyde argues that the blacklisting of maintenance defaulters with credit bureaus so that they do not qualify for credit might further hamper their ability to maintain their children.
However, many single parents will attest to having the other parent duck and dive on paying maintenance for the children, yet not having a second thought about getting credit in order to buy something for themselves.
For this reason, we need to ensure that maintenance payments are treated like any other legal payment obligation - if you don't pay an account, you will be blacklisted. And if you don’t pay your maintenance, you will be blacklisted in the same way. This provision will therefore prevent maintenance defaulters from continuing to get even more credit while they owe maintenance.
In terms of the legislation, one of the duties of the maintenance officer is to investigate a maintenance complaint which includes the tracing of the person who is supposed to pay maintenance.
However, if a parent responsible for maintenance cannot be traced, the court may now also issue an order to an electronic communication service provider, for example Vodacom, MTN, Cell C or Telkom, or an individual electronic communication licensee such as Dimension Data, Neotel and others, to provide the court with their contact information.
This order may only be granted if the court is satisfied that all reasonable efforts to locate the defaulter in question have failed. This amendment will assist in tracing maintenance defaulters who often do everything in their power to dodge their maintenance obligations.
Van der Heyde raises questions as to the cost implications of this.
The cost implications to obtain the information from the service providers will be funded by the state if it is found by the court that the complainant cannot afford to do so. The court may also order the defaulter to refund the state the costs incurred if the state has paid for the provision of information.
These new provisions have been thoroughly consulted with electronic communication service providers. In any event, the tracing of cellphone details and information is already in use in terms of another piece of legislation, the Protection from Harassment Act, 2011, where cellphone service providers are either not charging for the service of providing the information at all or where the costs are very low.
Finally, Van der Heyde makes the point that maintenance courts are understaffed. Maintenance, especially child maintenance, is one of the major priorities for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Our maintenance courts are open to the public throughout the year, ensuring that access to justice is in no way impaired.
While the 2016 Budget review stated that the appointments to non-critical vacant posts in the government would be frozen pending revised human resources plans, the impact of this on the family law section of our courts has been limited, as family law positions are regarded as critical by the department.
Last year, the department rolled out the first phase of its plan to fill vacant critical posts. This year, in the second phase, the department has plans to fill further family law posts, including positions at the Cape Town Magistrate's Court, to further facilitate service delivery.
The department is also on track with its service delivery improvement plan of maintenance applications being finalised within 90 days from date of proper service, having reached a cumulative success rate of 81% at the end of December 2017. Operation Isondlo - a project which traces maintenance defaulters in the Western Cape - is one of our longest-running and most successful projects, spanning over 12 years. Maintenance officers and clerks of the Western Cape also receive ongoing training in the implementation of the Act.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is confident that these changes will improve its service delivery to maintenance beneficiaries. The department is committed to a speedier and more efficient maintenance system, one that ensures the needs of affected children are put first.
These new provisions constitute part of a wider range of measures introduced by the department to bring about real change in service delivery to maintenance beneficiaries.
* John Jeffery, MP, is Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.