With the commencement of another New School Year, issues surrounding which parent is responsible for the school fee, transportation and lunch money usually raise concerns for single parents seeking support.
The Maintenance Act (2005) explicitly states that every parent has an OBLIGATION to maintain the parent’s unmarried child who- (a) is a minor; or (b) is in need of such maintenance, by reason of physical or mental infirmity or disability. It is important to note that the grandparents may also have this duty in the event of the failure of the child’s parents to do so owing to death, physical or mental sickness or disability.
It should be highlighted that ‘parent’ not only refers to a biological parent, it includes someone who has accepted any child as ‘a child of the marriage’, whether that child is a biological child of one of the parties to the marriage or not. This means that a stepparent have an obligation to maintain the stepchild whom he/she has accepted as a child of the family, while the couple is married and this obligation continues even if the marriage has ended.
Once a parent neglects his or her responsibility to the child, one should not be afraid to seek maintenance for that child. Below are six steps in applying for maintenance:
- An application for child maintenance should be made at the Manchester Parish Court located at 2 Parks Crescent in Mandeville or any other Parish Court across the island.
- It is recommended that you retain the services of an Attorney-at-Law to file the application on your behalf but you can also do this on your own. If you are applying on your own, speak to the Clerk of Courts who will process the documents.
- The court will issue a summons (a court document instructing a person against whom the claim is brought) informing them of the date they should attend court to hear the matter. Also included in the summons will be how much the applicant is requesting as payment for child maintenance.
- The summons is served on the individual. If the person cannot be located, then the matter will not be able to go before a Judge. However, if the summons is served and the person refuses to attend court on the date specified in the summons, then a warrant will be issued for his/her arrest.
- Once the summons has been served, both parents should appear in court on the appointed date and present their case before the Judge.
- The Judge, in considering the best interests of the child will proceed to make an order regarding maintenance and the amount which should be paid, how it should be paid, and when it should be paid- weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
Abi-Gaye White-Thomas B.A., LL.B (Hons)