How much child support should you claim or pay?
By Advocate Muhammad Abduroaf – Advocate of the High Court of South Africa
It is not only mothers who want to know how much maintenance they should claim. Fathers are very much interested in wanting to know how much they should pay. It is my view that there is nothing wrong with a father wanting to know whether or not he is paying too much maintenance. This is so as it is both parent’s responsibilities to maintain a child according to their means. However, what I do have the issue with is when fathers try to avoid their maintenance obligations. Even if you are unemployed, you can still pay maintenance depending on your means. And then you have mothers who want to exploit the fathers. The same applies when the roles are reversed. This is when the father is the primary caregiver and the mother pays him child support.
Common child maintenance questions
- How much child support should I claim for my child?
- How much child support should I pay for my children?
- The father of my child is unemployed, should I still claim child support?
These are two questions which are posed to me regularly. But what is the answer? What follows are certain factors I use to determine the amount of child support my clients should claim or pay when dealing with a child support matter.
Factors to consider regarding child support amounts
There are many factors to consider when it comes to figures in child support matters. Some are common to most people. However, depending on the situation, they won’t be the same for everyone. Remember, the explanation below is provided for information purposes only. The formula I follow is as follows:
- What are the reasonable monthly needs of the child? If you can place an amount to it, do so.
- The monthly income and expenses of both parents. The assets of the parents should also be considered should they not have an income or be unemployed.
- What can each parent reasonably contribute towards the monthly expenses of the child?
Reasonable needs of a child – Basic Maintenance Question
The reasonable needs of a child include food, clothing, accommodation, medical expenses and so on. Depending on the standard of living of the parents, or what the child is accustomed to, as seen later, it could include extramural expenses, the upkeep of a pony, and piano lessons. Once you determined what the child’s needs are, and what the parents can afford, you can determine what each parent should contribute. This amount should factor in once off yearly expenses. For example, school fees, TV and Car licenses and membership fees and so on. Let me explain this by way of example.
Income and expenses of child and parents
- Child’s expense: R 1 000 – 00.
- Custodian Parent’s income: R 10 000 – 00.
- Custodian Parent’s monthly expenses: R 5 000 – 00.
- Paying parent’s income: R 20 000 – 00.
- Paying parent’s monthly expenses: R 10 000 – 00.
Considering the above example, the paying parent earns double that of the custodian parent. And his or her monthly expenses are proportionately the same as that of the has parent. Therefore, if all else being equal, his or her contribution should be double of that of the custodian parent. If the paying parent becomes unemployed, his maintenance obligations does nott come to an end. He may have other means. If he has a flashy car, he needs to downgrade and use some of that money for maintenance.
Final child maintenance amount:
The Paying parent would pay two thirds of the child’s expenses which equates to R 666 – 00 per month. And the custodian parent would thus cover the balance of R 334 – 00 per month. The R 666 – 00 would be less should he pay any of the minor child’s expenses directly. For example, medical aid or school fees.
The challenge regarding child maintenance amounts
The golden rule in all matters regarding children is that their best interest be upheld. However, in child maintenance matters it is not as easy as saying that the child needs to have the best of clothes, education, and food available. By taking this view, it would be as saying that during the parents’ marriage, or while the parents lived together, the child went to the best school in the area, wore the best of clothes and ate the best of food. This is so, notwithstanding the parents earning a far below average income. Such a legal approach would be nonsensical. Another challenge is when the paying parent is self-employed or unemployed. In the case of self-employed parents, their income varies. However, what we look at is the average they earn each month. For an unemployed parent, as stated, we look at their means.
Factors the Court considers in Child Maintenance Matters
Each child maintenance case is determined on its own merits by weighing various factors. There are certain overlapping factors. The factors to consider are:
- The reasonable needs of the minor child;
- The reasonable expenses of the parents;
- The standard of living the child was accustomed to while the parties were married or living together (if applicable);
- The earning capacity of the parents; and
- The assets of the parents.
Therefore, it does not mean every 5-year-old child will require a child maintenance contribution of R 500 00 (five hundred rands). A contribution of R 500 – 00 for a specific 5-year-old child might be reasonable or even too high, depending on the circumstances. Let me provide you with two scenarios:
Scenario A – Child Maintenance
A 5-year-old child’s parents each earns R 500 – 00 per month. They were bringing up the child perfectly under the circumstances with their modest standard of living which is the norm in the area they live in. Furthermore, this is the same standard the parents were accustomed to when they were raised by their parents. If they are to estimate the costs of the child, it would be about R 200 – 00 per month which goes to food, shelter, clothes etc. Should the parents separate or divorce, and, let’s say in this case, the mother claims maintenance from the father for child support, she would not have a case for more than R 150 – 00 per month. You might wonder why I don’t say R 100 – 00 per month seeing that the parents earned the same salary? The mother in this scenario had to find alternative accommodation, and therefore the child would require more maintenance (it could even be less).
Scenario B – Child Maintenance
Let’s say the parents of a 5-year-old child each earns R 50 000 – 00 per month. The child has an au pair, own room, policies in his or her favour, expensive clothes, medical aid, expensive creams, attends ballet and violin classes etc. The monthly costs of this child are about R 25 000 – 00 per month. Should the parents separate, a claim for maintenance could easily be in the region of R 15 000 – 00. R 14 850 – 00 more than the 5-year-old child in the previous scenario above. The amount to pay therefore all depends on the facts, circumstances etc. To make things more complicated, if the mother in this scenario have assets worth millions and the father only owns a car of R 100 000 – 00, his contribution could be far less than R 15 000 – 00, even if they have the same monthly salary. It is even possible that his contribution could be R 150 – 00 (and not R 15 000 – 00) as in the case of scenario A above. All these factors have to be discussed with your maintenance lawyer or advocate. I hope this gave you a feel for how child support or child maintenance is calculated. Therefore, in answering the questions posed above, i.e. How much child support should you claim for your child, and how much child maintenance should you pay; the answer is, it depends on the facts.