A parent’s duty to support a child does not cease when the child reaches a particular age but it usually does so when the child becomes self-supporting. Majority (18) is not the determining factor.
At common law, both divorced parents have a duty to maintain their child after divorcing. The incidence of this duty in respect of each parent depends upon their relative means and the needs of the child from time to time. The duty does not terminate when the child reaches a particular age but continues after majority.
The Divorce Act 70 of 1979 regulating payment of maintenance
The Divorce Act refers to “provisions made or contemplated with regard to the welfare of any minor or dependent child of the marriage” and provides that a court granting a decree of divorce may make any order which it may deem fit in respect of the maintenance of a dependent child of the marriage.
The duty of support likewise revives if a child ceases to be self-supporting for reasons such as ill-health or disability.
A major is not usually supported on as lavish a scale as a minor. A major must be in dire financial straits before a court will order a parent to support him or her.
When a child marries, the duty of support rests primarily on the spouse. Only if the spouse cannot provide support can the parents be called upon to do so. If parents do support a married child, they have a right of recovery against the spouse.
Lack of gratitude from a child
Can a child’s conduct relieve a parent of the duty to support? Voet (a 17th-century Dutch jurist) states that the duty ceases when the person to be maintained is guilty of the ingratitude of a degree which would justify disinheritance.
However, ask yourself, as a parent, what you may have done to earn his or her ingratitude. There may be two sides to the story.
By way of interest, in 2002, best-selling author, Wilbur Smith, launched an unusual ‘gross ingratitude’ lawsuit against his stepson, demanding that he return millions of Rands in cash and luxury gifts given to him over the years.
Smith claimed that his stepson had demonstrated ‘gross ingratitude’ to him and had ‘rejected, humiliated and been unconscionably rude’ to Smith’s new wife.