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How to calculate maintenance for a child?

Maintenance is one of the Family Law field’s most commonly experienced problems, whether disputing parties are debating it for the first time as part of a divorce, or couples that have been divorced for years and still cannot seem to agree, or worse…. absent fathers refusing to pay maintenance for their children.

South African law dictates that biological parents have a duty to support and maintain minor children, and this duty is essentially a life-long requirement. The problem, however, arises when one starts to ask HOW MUCH parents have to pay.

The simple answer: The law states that parents should contribute in proportion to their respective incomes. This seems easy enough, in principle. It does, however, get more complicated.


The challenge comes in when one needs to first calculate the “reasonable costs” of a child in the household. Once you know how much a minor child (children, if there are more than one) costs to maintain, you can split those costs between the parents.


Calculating the reasonable costs of a child can be done in a number of ways, depending on what the nature of the expense is. For instance, calculating fuel costs would differ to the way one would calculate the child’s portion on a mortgage bond, or short-term insurance amount.


What are some of the metrics used when dividing costs between adults and minor children? Here are some of the most common metrics:

  • Time spent with each parent: In many cases, items such as household costs are split in proportion to the time the children reside with the parent/caregiver at that residence. For example: If children are only in a father’s care for 30% of the time and in the mother’s care for the remaining 70%, then the costs of the children are 30% of the father’s rent/bond, and 70% of the mother’s. Costs are then split according to income unless otherwise agreed.

  • Kilometers travelled: When calculating a child’s portion of vehicle expenses incurred, a popular metric is to divide the number of km travelled in a month for children specifically by the total number of km travelled in a month. The percentage of km travelled for the children will be the value one places on their consumption of vehicle costs.

  • Children consume 50% of what an adult does: This is a simple method by which you allocate 50% of what an adult consumes to each child, For example: If a mother has a R4000 grocery expenditure per month and has two children, the children will consume R1000 each and the mother will consume R2000.

  • Number of bedrooms: This method accounts for the physical space children take up in the house hold. In a four-bedroom home, with two children each utilising a room, the children will each take a 25% share in the household expenses.

  • Arbitrary concession: Parents are also entitled to make an arbitrary concession on what works for both of them at that point in time. For instance: A father may agree to pay the bond on the house and split all other costs 50/50 with the mother paying school fees and uniforms. Or they can simply split each line item in an arbitrary way that works for them.

These are amongst the most commonly-used ways to calculate maintenance for children. Disagreements regarding maintenance often ends up in a lengthy and costly court battle, damaging relationships between parties permanently. Mediation can help!


Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) whereby a qualified, neutral professional facilitates a discussion between two disputing parties to help them reach a binding agreement to a legal problem.


United Outcome Mediations can help you reach a Maintenance Agreement that works for both parties, is within the bounds of the law and has a higher chance of being upheld by both parties – thus saving you on legal fees and time spent in court. Contact us for more information or to set up an information session.

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