Last Updated: Tuesday 17th January, 2023
There is a legal responsibility on parents, whether married or unmarried, to maintain dependent children. Child maintenance can make a real difference to children as it can help pay for food, clothing, education and other essentials. It is meant to cover the day-to-day living and general upkeep of the minor child/children. But how does one go about getting maintenance for a child in Trinidad and Tobago?
1. First, what is maintenance?
Maintenance is the payment of a lump sum or periodical payments of money for the minor child or children of the family. In most cases, these payments are made monthly. It is usually paid by the parent who is without the main day-to-day care of the child (the non-resident parent) to the parent with the main day-to-day care (the parent with care). Child maintenance is payable even if the parents are not married -. Parents may decide to have an arrangement for the payment of child maintenance between them (a private agreement) or may require external assistance from the court for a maintenance order. If you choose to arrange maintenance through the court, payments are received from the non-resident parent at the Court and disbursed to the parent with custody of the child.
2. Who can apply for maintenance?
Any parent or guardian, either male or female, who is a resident of Trinidad and Tobago, who has care and control of the child/children, and needs financial assistance for the child/children, can apply for a Maintenance Order. If a guardian is applying he/she will have to prove the said child is in his/her care and control or custody.
3. Who is responsible for maintenance of the child or children?
All parents have a duty to maintain their child / children regardless of their marital / union status. The parents / guardian who have / has the custody, care and control of the child /children is/are entitled to apply for a Maintenance Order.
4. Which child or children is/are entitled to Maintenance?
The following are entitled to maintenance:-
5. Where to apply for Maintenance?
An applicant must apply for child maintenance at the Magistrate’s Court within their magisterial district which is based on where he or she lives. You can determine your Magisterial District HERE. Persons living in the district of St George West (which starts in Chaguaramas and ends in Mt. Lambert) can go to the Family Court in Port of Spain. All other persons go to the Magistrate’s Court in their area. For example, if you live in the Chaguanas area, then the application for maintenance should be at the Chaguanas Magistrates’ Court.
6. If the parties agree on Maintenance, do they still need to go to Court?
No. If an agreement is reached, the money can be paid without the necessity for a Court Order (person-to-person without the interference of the Court). However, you may wish to have the agreement legally binding. An application must be made at the Court, or parties can choose Mediation where they would be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in which they agree to abide by the agreement reached. In both instances the parties involved would be required to attend a Court hearing in which their matters are recorded in the Court as a Consent Order and becomes legally enforceable in the Court.
7. Can the maintenance order be varied?
Yes. Either party can apply to vary or discharge the Maintenance Order. This application is made to the Magistrate’s Court in whom the maintenance Order was made, and cause must be shown by fresh evidence to the satisfaction of the Court for the application to be granted.
8. How long does a maintenance order remain in force?
Maintenance payments under an order must be made until the child is 18 years old. If the applicant wants the payment to continue after the child is over 18 years old, he/she must ask the court to make specific direction to this effect in the order. The applicant may also apply to the Court for a special order extending the Maintenance Order until the child turns 21 years old (for example, if the child pursues tertiary education).
9. What are the consequences for non-compliance with Magisterial Maintenance Orders?
If a respondent does not pay child maintenance as ordered by the court, the applicant may return to the court after one month has passed, where the respondent can be brought before the court in 2 ways:
Maintenance warrant of Apprehension “Warrant of Arrest” where an application is made by the applicant for a breach of the order and the respondent is questioned about the neglect to pay the child maintenance order, which can only be taken out after (4) weeks (one month) of consistent non-payment. The consequence depends on the sensitivity of the case, as well as the severity of the matter at hand.
After the Police officers execute the warrant on the respondent, he/she is then brought before a Magistrate, where a ruling is made. If arrested on a weekend, the respondent is placed in the holding bay at the police station until the proceeding working day. If there is no Magistrate available the Justice of the Peace can now place the respondent on a bond on a particular sum of money to attend Court on a particular date or at the earliest time/date possible (normally the following working day).
“Commitment Warrant”: the respondent is given time to pay the outstanding balance, if any, on the order called “Time Allowed” by the Magistrate, and that time has elapsed and the full sum of money/arrears has not been paid, the court can now enforce this type of warrant and the respondent has to either pay the full amount forthwith or is sent to prison without a hearing.
10. Can I make an application for maintenance for child (ren) who are part of the family but are not biologically the respondent’s child (ren)?
Yes, according to the Family Law Act and the Marriage Act, once persons have been married, they both assume responsibility for the children of the marriage whether they are biologically the parents or not.
11. How long after separation can a spouse apply for maintenance for the child/children?
There is no time limit in applying for maintenance.
12. Can an application be made if parties are not separated but Respondent withholds funds which applicant is dependant on?
Yes. According to Section 13 (3) and Section 24 of the Family Law Act.
13. Can an Applicant/Respondent vary a Maintenance Application?
Yes, but six (6) months must elapse after the order was given, or the respondent must have a valid claim such as loss of employment (notice/letter from former employer to prove such), physical injury (medical certificate), the other party has now neglected the children, so the other party now has to maintain the children.
14. Can Maintenance Payments be made online?
Yes, they can be.
15. How to make Maintenance Payments online?
Maintenance is paid online through a system called Court Pay. Court Pay is the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago’s online system for making and receiving courts payments into and out of Court.
Once registered, customers can make payments online using a credit card or the CourtPay Top up Voucher. CourtPay Top up Vouchers can be purchased at the locations LISTED HERE.
16. How will online Payments be received?
Payments will be sent directly to the payee’s bank account within (1) working day. Persons without a bank account will be issued with a payout card to receive payments.
Important Notice: This post does not constitute legal advice. Always consult with a suitably qualified attorney-at-law on any legal problem or issue
Law for All is managed by the Aurora Chambers Legal Practice.