Q. What is Child Maintenance?
A. Maintenance is the payment of a lump sum or periodical payments of money for the minor child/children of the family. Maintenance payments include the cost of day-to-day living and general upkeep of the minor child/children. and can also include educational cost. It is usually paid by the parent who is without the main day-to-day care of the child (the non-resident parent), also called the payer, to the parent with the main day-to-day care (the parent with care) - called the payee. 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.
Whichever option you choose, the fastest method for payment of child maintenance is direct to the parent with care. This can be done in cash or other facilities such as bank accounts. If you choose to arrange maintenance through the court, payments are received from the non-resident parent at the Family Court and disbursed to the parent with custody of the child.
In some cases, the person receiving child maintenance can be a grandparent or guardian.
Q. Who can apply for maintenance?
A. Any parent or guardian either male or female who must be a resident of Trinidad and Tobago, who has care and control of the child/children, and needing financial assistance for 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.
Q. Who is responsible for maintenance of the child or children?
A. 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.
Q. Who is the child or children entitled to Maintenance?
A. The following are entitled to maintenance:-
- Biological children
- Step children
- Adoptive children
- Children who has been treated as children of the family.
Q. Where to apply for Maintenance?
A. An applicant wishing to make an application for child maintenance can do so at the Family Court of Trinidad and Tobago. The applicant himself/ herself can walk in and make the application in the Magisterial jurisdiction. To qualify to file an application in the Magisterial jurisdiction, the applicants must reside in the St. George West District which starts from Chaguaramas and ends at Mt. Lambert. Should they reside outside of this jurisdiction, applications can be made at the Magistrates’ Court in their district.
Q. If the parties agree on Maintenance, do they still need to go to Court?
A. 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 enforceable in the Court.
Q. Can the maintenance order be varied?
A. 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.
Q. How long does a maintenance order remain in force?
A. 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. e.g tertiary education.
Q. Why does it take so long to execute a warrant?
A. This part of the process is not the responsibility of the Court but rather the Warrant Officers attached to the police station nearest to the respondent’s address.
Q. Can an Applicant/Respondent recall a warrant?
A. No, you CANNOT recall a warrant. The only way a warrant is discharged is upon the discretion of the Magistrate when the warrant is executed and respondent appears before the Magistrate.
Q. What are the consequences for non-compliance with Magisterial Maintenance Orders?
A. 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.
Q. 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)?
A. 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.
Q. How long after separation can a spouse apply for maintenance for the child/children?
A. There is no time limit in applying for maintenance.
Q. Can I apply for maintenance if I have remarried or is in another relationship?
Q. Can an application be made if parties are not separated but Respondent withholds funds which applicant is dependant on?
A. Yes. According to Section 13 (3) and Section 24 of the Family Law Act.
Q. Can an Applicant/Respondent vary a Maintenance Application?
A. Yes, but six (6) months have to 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.