Hot on the trail of absentee fathers

Investigators and legal officers have been deployed at maintenance courts to bolster the enforcement of child-support orders.

03 October 2019 | Justice

Mums battling lax fathers unwilling to pay child support have received a major boost with the recent appointment of nine investigators to maintenances courts.

The investigators are legally armed to take on crucial tasks that to date have been the burden of mothers, including tracing payslip and other asset information, tracking defaulters and serving court papers. “The appointment of these officials will hugely resolve many hindrances which have been faced in resolving maintenance matters,” justice ministry spokesperson Simon Idipo told Namibian Sun.

It is estimated that less than 1% of the estimated 4 000 to 5 000 child-support claims lodged at maintenance courts are filed by fathers, a Legal Assistance Study (LAC) study has found.

The investigators will be deployed to Windhoek, Otjiwarongo, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Ondangwa, Oshakati, Rundu and Keetmanshoop. In addition, the justice ministry also appointed four legal officers two months ago, further strengthening the recourse base at maintenance courts.

While Namibia's 2003 maintenance law has been described as progressive, its implementation has long been undermined by the absence of investigators for which the Act provides.





Last week the justice ministry concluded induction training of nine new maintenance investigators and four new legal officers who will staff the maintenance divisions at eight magistrate courts and help “solve countless hiccups currently faced by the courts in solving maintenance disputes.”

Justice ministry spokesperson Master Penna confirmed yesterday that the legal officers appointed to the maintenance courts took up their posts two months ago.

Three investigators came on board on Tuesday, and the remaining six investigators will take up their posts on 1 November.

Penna confirmed that the legal officers are responsible for conducting child-support inquiries and will present cases to the maintenance court.

The investigators are responsible for locating defaulters and persons required to attend child-support inquiries, serve court papers and trace and evaluate assets.



Finally

James Itana of Regain Trust told Namibian Sun that “the absence of men as fathers in Namibia is a well-known fact and it transcends the economic status of mothers”.

He said most children in Namibia are raised by single mothers.

“A father's involvement, active participation and care for their children should not be regarded as merely helping the mother, but should be seen as a mandatory responsibility and duty. Therefore, men cannot and should never be allowed to take a backseat where their parental duties are concerned,” Itana emphasised.

A study of child support by the LAC highlighted the absence of investigators at maintenance courts as a critical gap that weakened the law and its provisions.

The study further highlighted that in South Africa, drastic improvements at maintenance courts were “attributed primarily to the appointment of maintenance investigators.”

LAC lawyer Yolande Engelbrecht said the appointment of investigators is a step in the right direction and will “definitely assist in timeous, quality and accessible legal services in the fight against challenges faced by the maintenance courts.”

She added that investigators would make it harder for people to hide their income and this “should help stamp out abuse of the maintenance courts by dishonest persons on either side of the case.”

The low amount of child-support orders, on average N$250 per child per month, was also blamed partly on a lack of investigators to help shed light on asset information.

Ingrid Husselmann, the children's advocate in the ombudsman's office, told Namibian Sun previously that in terms of Namibia's laws, both parents are obligated to maintain their children, and all children have the right to be maintained by both parents.

The law further allows someone who does not have the means to make cash payments to make non-monetary or in-kind contributions instead.

She said the ombudsman's office trusts that with the appointment of the investigators “most of the issues regarding claims for maintenance will be resolved”.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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