Give him a break, judge says as ex-wife claims 96% of divorced father’s pay
By Zelda Venter 39m ago
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Pretoria – A judge found that a divorced father of three should be given a break after he short-paid one month’s maintenance to his former wife, as his salary reduction due to Covid-19 left him out of pocket.
The man, only identified by his initials as the maintenance dispute involves children, made up for the shortfall when he received his Ters funding. His former wife, nevertheless, took him to the Johannesburg high court for a contempt order as he failed to pay her the full amount in May last year, at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The wife not only wanted her money, but she also wanted the court to imprison her husband for failing to pay that month. She agreed that the prison sentence could be suspended and only come into force if he again failed to make payment.
But instead of getting her way, the wife’s application was turned down, and she was ordered to foot her husband’s legal costs, on a punitive scale, in defending the application which she had launched.
The wife, who withheld the three children from seeing their father during this time, must now also ensure that he received access to them. She told the court that she feared Covid-19, thus they were not allowed to visit their father.
The wife turned to court as she felt her husband, the respondent, did not adhere to a previous maintenance order.
The respondent short-paid R6 000 of his total maintenance obligation of R27 835, which was due on May 1.
Eighteen days later the applicant launched contempt proceedings because of this short-payment. The respondent, a salaried architect, said he was unable to pay the full amount because his salary had been reduced by his employer because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He was able to make up the shortfall in June when he received Covid-19 relief funds. The applicant, who describes herself as an unemployable housewife, persisted in her application that the respondent be held in contempt, and further that should he again breach his maintenance obligations that he be committed to prison.
On the same days that the respondent was informed by his employer of the salary reduction, his attorneys wrote to the applicant’s attorneys informing them of this reduction in salary, but promised to make it up as soon as he received some money.
The court was told that instead of paying his maintenance obligations of R27 925, he would be paying R6 000 less.
Acting Judge J Gilbert committed that the applicant expected the respondent to pay her R27 925 of his net salary of R29 110. That is 96% of what he had earned, leaving for himself an amount of R1 185.
Although the man is living with his parents, the court noted that he had to virtually pay his entire salary over to his former wife in maintenance obligations.
The wife’s stance was that he simply had to reduce his expenses. But the judge said it was difficult to see how the man could tighten the belt under these circumstances.
The wife further argued that rather than paying his lawyers to defend her court bid, he should have paid the money to her. In this regard the judge said he risked being imprisoned for contempt if he did not get lawyers to fight for his liberty.
Judge Bert Bam, who earlier made the maintenance order in favour of the wife and children, at that stage already said the wife made unreasonable demands on her former husband. He at the time suggested she toned down her expenses or find a job.
In this judgment, Judge Gilbert said he was inclined to agree.