The Maintenance Act, Act 99 of 1998 (“the Act”), serves as a cornerstone in South African family law, aiming to ensure that caregivers fulfil their legal obligations towards their dependents. The Act provides support for a wide range of dependents, including children, spouses, and parents, and aims to emphasise the societal value placed on family welfare and support.

Obligations Under the Maintenance Act

Central to the Act is the financial responsibilities of those who are legally required to provide for their dependents. The Act aims to provide for basic needs of dependents, including but not limited to day-to-day needs such as food and shelter, as well as educational and healthcare needs, ensuring a holistic approach to the dependent’s welfare.

Initiating a Maintenance Claim

The procedure for obtaining a maintenance order is designed to be accessible, allowing those in need of support to easily navigate the legal system. This accessibility is crucial in ensuring that the Act fulfils its purpose of providing support to those in need.

Approaching the maintenance Court for assistance, whether that be for a new order, alternatively to vary or set aside an existing order, it is vital that parties are honest with the Court, and fully forthcoming in their financial disclosure. The Court will take into consideration the income, expenses, assets and liabilities of the parties, along with the needs of the dependent.

Whilst legal representation is not required in maintenance court proceedings, the complexities of the Act, and the variation between the facts and circumstances of each individual case makes legal representation invaluable. Experienced family law attorneys can navigate the legal system effectively, ensuring that maintenance orders are fair, enforceable, and in the best interests of the dependent, and within the caregiver’s means. Their expertise not only aids in securing initial orders but is also crucial in the review and modification process, ensuring that maintenance orders continue to reflect the dependent’s needs, and caregiver’s means, accurately.

Variation and setting aside of orders

The Act’s provisions for the variation and setting aside of maintenance orders reflect an understanding of the dynamic nature of financial situations. This process of review and modification is essential in maintaining the balance between the needs of the dependent and the abilities of the caregiver, ensuring that the maintenance orders serve their intended purpose without causing undue hardship.

Enforcement and Compliance

The Maintenance Act’s enforcement provisions are designed to address the challenges of non-compliance, offering a range of tools to ensure that maintenance orders are respected. From garnishing wages, to seizing assets, the Act provides clear, enforceable measures to secure the financial support ordered by the courts. These enforcement mechanisms are crucial in cases where individuals attempt to evade their responsibilities. They serve as a deterrent against non-compliance, reinforcing the importance of adhering to maintenance obligations for the well-being, and best interests of dependents.

Adhering to maintenance orders is a reflection of the responsibility of a caregiver, ensuring that dependents are provided for financially, in order to ensure that their daily needs are met.

Furthermore, a maintenance order remains valid and binding until such time as it is varied or set aside. Failure to comply with maintenance orders could result in civil, or criminal action being taken against the defaulter. As such, in the event that your circumstances have changed, and you are unable to comply with the terms of the order it would be of utmost importance to approach the maintenance court for a variation thereof.


A vital part of South Africa’s family law system, the Maintenance Act is the framework that provides for a comprehensive approach to maintenance obligations, and combined with its enforcement mechanisms, the Maintenance Act aims to deliver dependents with the financial support they require.

At Pagel Schulenburg, we understand how difficult it can be to navigate legal family matters. Our family law department has extensive experience in dealing with these matters in a sensitive and compassionate way. If you have any questions about maintenance, or if you wish to start the process of claiming maintenance, please contact our Family Law department.