A child is entitled to reasonable maintenance to provide for clothing, housing, dental and medical care, education and training, and, where applicable, recreation. Both parents have a duty to maintain the child according to their respective means. The duty exists irrespective of whether the child is adopted, born in or out of wedlock, or born of the first or a subsequent marriage.
What is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the family’s standard of living, their income and the cost of living. The standard of living usually determines whether expenses for recreation, and secondary- and tertiary-level education will be awarded. In divorce proceedings, issues of maintenance are governed by the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act Chap. 45:51.Where parents are not married however, relief with regard to maintenance is usually heard in the Magistrates Court.
Student Attorney Mera Maharaj examined the issue of maintenance of children in magisterial proceedings, for the for the Hugh Wooding Law School’s Human Rights Law Clinic. Mera’s article was published in the Law Made Simple column of the Trinidad Guardian newspaper on Monday December 5th, 2016.
What is Maintenance?
Maintenance is the payment of a sum of money by a person for the general day-to-day living expenses for children and/or a spouse.
Where can I go to obtain Maintenance?
The Magistrates’ Courts are available to make an arrangement on maintenance called a Maintenance Order if reasonable financial support is not being provided for children or a spouse. The Magistrates’ Courts are located in different districts throughout the country. An application for maintenance should be made in the Magistrates’ Court nearest to your address.
Who can apply?
Either party to a marriage can apply for a Maintenance Order for financial support of children. Unmarried persons who have lived together for at least 5 years as cohabitants can also apply for a Maintenance Order. Any person identified as a parent in a child’s birth certificate can apply. A guardian can also apply for an order provided they have proof that the child is in their care and control or custody.
A Maintenance Order can be granted for children up to the age of 18 years. A special direction can be made for maintenance to be extended until the age of 21 years for children who require financial assistance for tertiary level education.
A Maintenance Order can also be granted for children who are not biologically related to the family. The Court can step in to grant an order for children who include stepchildren, adopted children and children who have been treated as children of a marriage.
Amending a Maintenance Order
A Maintenance Order for financial support of children may be amended after 6 months if a parent has become unemployed or is injured and is unable to work. Documents such as letters from your employer and medical reports must be presented to the Court in such circumstances.
Consequences of Non-compliance
A person in breach of a Maintenance Order for more than a month may be issued a –
- Warrant of Arrest where the person will be brought before the Magistrate for questioning followed by a ruling by the Court;
- Commitment Warrant where the person is given time to pay the outstanding balance called “Time Allowed”. If the full amount is not paid within this time the warrant is enforced and the person is liable to imprisonment if the outstanding amount is not paid.
Payment of monies due for Maintenance can be made into the Court at the Cashier, Registry Services between Mondays to Fridays 8:00am to 3:00pm.
The Family Proceedings Rules 1998, Rule 12.1 (2) provides for an application for financial support to be made for:
- co-habitants: unmarried persons who have lived together as husband and wife in a bona fide domestic relationship for a period of not less than five years; and
Under the Family Law (Guardianship of Minors Domicile and Maintenance) Act,) s. 13(2) the Court may make an Order to persons in custody of children for the payment of periodical sums towards their maintenance by either parent.
Maintenance is a legal responsibility. Know your duties. Be responsible.
Students of the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Law Clinic were each given the opportunity to write an article for the “Law Made Simple” column in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.
These topics ranged from analysis of specific legislation, to general legal concepts. The aim of this exercise was to teach the students how to write about complex legal issues, for the average newspaper reader.
This article was re-published with permission from the Human Rights Law Clinic.