Divorced father’s duty to support adult children

A divorced father who stopped certain payments towards his two children (both over 18 years of age) was ordered to pay his ex-wife R166 000 within 30 days in the JAL v JL (19441/2020) (2020) ZAECHC (10 June 2022) case. If he fails to do this, the Sheriff of the Court is entitled to take possession of his assets to sell to recoup the money. The father argued he was only to pay maintenance until the son reached majority – which is 18 under SA law – and that the daughter – diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder – had not shown the necessary ‘aptitude and diligence in her studies’. While the father and mother differed on what they perceived ‘aptitude and diligence in her studies’ meant, the court said it did not matter what their perception was. Judge Judy Cloete referred to the daughter’s psychologist who said, ‘due to her illness she was unable to focus adequately on her academic career, and that this should be considered sympathetically’.

The expert said the daughter was working hard on her health and things should improve, notes the Cape Times report. Cloete said: ‘To my mind there is no difference between L’s (the daughter’s) situation and one where a dependent major child suffers a serious physical injury, or succumbs to some other type of illness, which renders her unable to complete her tertiary studies for a particular year. To view the position otherwise would be to ignore the very real, devastating, and debilitating effects of a psychiatric illness, and to inappropriately regard such an illness as having lesser importance, and consequences, than a physical injury or other debilitating condition.’ She thus ordered the father to continue to contribute towards his daughter’s studies, including giving her monthly pocket money, as he and his wife had agreed when they got divorced that they would support her in obtaining a qualification. The same principle counted for the son, who turned 18 in the year he was in matric. The judge pointed out that the parents agreed during their divorce to contribute towards the children for as long as the children are not supporting themselves, thus the father had to also continue paying towards his son’s studies and maintenance.

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