Maintenance Amendment Bill, 2014

MAINTENANCE AMENDMENT BILLThe Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Advocate Michael Masutha has tabled the Maintenance Amendment Bill, 2014 (“The Bill”) in Parliament on 5 November 2014. The Bill aims to amend the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998 (“The Act”), in order to improve the maintenance system.

The Bill seeks to amongst others, increase the penalties for certain offences, further regulate the making of maintenance orders, further regulate the investigation of maintenance complaints, further regulate the conversion of criminal proceedings into maintenance enquiries and to further regulate the maintenance enquiries in order to make provision for the granting of interim maintenance orders.

The Maintenance Court will be empowered to order one or more electronic communications service providers such as Telkom and MTN to furnish the court with the prescribed contact information of a person who may be affected by an order of a maintenance court, if that person is a customer of that service provider. This direction may only be issued in circumstances wherein the court is satisfied that all reasonable efforts to trace the person, has been fruitless. The Maintenance Court will also be empowered to make an order, in the absence of the Respondent or Beneficiary or both parties, if the order is consistent with the written consent which is handed in by the maintenance officer. This occurs in instances wherein parties have agreed beforehand on their respective maintenance obligations and have signed a form to this effect. The form signed reflects their maintenance obligations.

Maintenance courts will be able to grant an order by default in instances wherein the court is satisfied that a person, either the Respondent or the Beneficiary failed to appear despite having been duly warned of the court date. As soon as a complaint is made that a person has defaulted on their maintenance obligations with the Maintenance Court, his or her personal details will then be submitted to the credit bureau, which rates the credit-worthiness of persons. This, in turn, will prevent such persons from continuing to receive credit while they still owe maintenance.

A maintenance officer will be empowered to subpoena the beneficiary of a maintenance order or the Respondent to appear before the maintenance court to give evidence or produce certain documents. A duty will be placed on Maintenance Courts to finalise matters speedily.

The above merely highlights the proposed amendments to be introduced by the Bill. These amendments are intended to improve the maintenance system as a whole. The amendments will reduce the workload of maintenance courts by empowering the courts to grant orders, in the absence of parties which order is consistent with their written consent. It will address situations wherein persons who has maintenance obligations which they try to delay as far as possible by not paying their maintenance. Maintenance courts will therefore be allowed to make interim orders, pending finalisation of maintenance enquiries. The amendments also intends to improve the investigations by maintenance officials.

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