Duration of duty to support children

A parent’s duty to support a child does not cease when the child reaches a particular age but it usually does so when the child becomes self-supporting.

Duration of duty to support children

A parent’s duty to support a child does not cease when the child reaches a particular age but it usually does so when the child becomes self-supporting.

Majority is not the determining factor here. Section 6 of the Divorce Act, which is concerned with safeguarding the interests of children when their parents divorce, refers to “provisions made or contemplated with regard to the welfare of any minor or dependent child of the marriage” and provides that a court granting a decree of divorce may make any order which it may deem fit in respect of the maintenance of a dependent child of the marriage, in contrast with the reference to the custody or guardianship of or access to a minor child (emphasis supplied). The fact that a child is working does not mean that he or she is necessarily self-supporting. Continued but reduced support by parents may be necessary in accordance with the family’s standard of living. The duty of support likewise revives if a child ceases to be self-supporting for reasons such as ill-health or disability. A major is not usually supported on as lavish a scale as a minor. In B v B it was stated that although the duty of support persists into the child’s majority, its nature changes and it is then confined to necessaries, “in other words, the child must be in indigent circumstances in the sense that he or she is in need of a contribution towards his or her maintenance.”

When one marries, the duty of support rests primarily on one’s spouse; only if one’s spouse cannot give support can one’s parents be called upon to do so. If parents do support a married child they have a right of recovery against the spouse.

Can a child’s conduct relieve a parent of the duty to support? Voet states that the duty ceases when the person to be maintained is guilty of ingratitude of a degree which would justify disinheritance.

Source: Handbook of the South African Law of Maintenance by Lesbury van Zyl

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