What can you do to enforce a maintenance order against a person who is responsible for paying maintenance, but fails to do so or is paying too little?
When someone fails to pay maintenance in terms of a maintenance order you have the option of lodging a complaint against them with the Maintenance officer, stating that the person is legally liable to maintain, for example, yourself or your minor child(ren) and is not doing so. The Maintenance officer must investigate the complaint and may then institute an enquiry in a maintenance court. The Maintenance officer, not the complainant, decides whether to institute an enquiry. In investigating a complaint about maintenance, the Maintenance officer may obtain statements or any relevant information pertaining to the payment of maintenance. An enquiry under the Maintenance Act is a procedure which empowers people to enforce their rights and those of their child(ren) at the State’s expense. During the course of a maintenance enquiry the parties usually come to an agreement and seek to withdraw the proceedings, or have the terms of the agreement made an order of court, which cannot be disregarded by the magistrate. If the parties cannot come to an agreement the matter will be referred to the maintenance court.
Whenever a person against whom a maintenance order has been issued under the Act fails to make any payment in accordance with that order, the order is enforceable in respect of any amount that person has failed to pay, together with any interest:
- by execution against property;
- by the attachment of emoluments; or
- by the attachment of debt.
If a maintenance order made under the Act remains unsatisfied for a period of ten days from the day on which the amount became payable or the order was made, the person in whose favour the order was made may apply to the maintenance court in which the order was made: 1) for authorisation of the issue of a warrant of execution, 2) for an order for the attachment of emoluments or 3) for an order for the attachment of debt. The application must be accompanied by a copy of the maintenance order or other order in question and a statement under oath stating the amount that the person against whom the order was made has failed to pay.
Subject to the defence that failure to make a payment in terms of a maintenance order is due to a lack of means, a person who fails to make a particular payment in accordance with a maintenance order is guilty of an offence and liable to conviction with a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to imprisonment without the option of a fine.
On the application of the public prosecutor and in addition to or instead of imposing a penalty, a court convicting any person of the offence of failing to make a payment in accordance with a maintenance order may grant an order for recovery from that person of the amount he or she has failed to pay, together with any interest.
Your best option would be to approach the Maintenance officer in order to reconcile the outstanding amounts. Thereafter, if the person still fails to effect payment, you can approach an attorney to either proceed with execution of the order, if the person has sufficient movable or immovable property, or obtain an emolument order which will be served upon the employer of the person (ordering the employer to pay the maintenance), or you may approach the maintenance court for an order for the attachment of any debt accruing, then or in the future, to the person responsible for paying maintenance.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.
 The Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.
 Young v Young 1985(1) SA 782 (C).
 The Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.