n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Coming to court for child support - the policy, the practice and reality. A case study of black women in the maintenance system at the Johannesburg Family Court [2002-2004]

Volume 17, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



The popular press and hearsay evidence have consistently related accounts of women's ordeals at the maintenance courts. Very little empirical research is available in South Africa to substantiate the critical statements regarding the absence of a service delivery ethos within the maintenance court structure and process. This study was conducted at the Johannesburg Family Court. Its primary purpose was to explore the perceptions of a selected group of people with regard to the efficiency and responsiveness of service delivery in terms of the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998, and in particular, the enforcement of maintenance orders. The researchers used a blended approach of interviews and questionnaires sourcing information from a variety of roleplayers which included the professional staff at the court, staff from other maintenance courts, members of the national Department of Justice, and 40 black women (selected randomly) during the process of applying for maintenance.

In summary, the findings indicate that the statute provides adequate protection for women within the maintenance system: the problem lies with enforcement. This circumstance was attributed to a variety of factors. Most disconcerting, however, was the number of women who spoke of the incompetent, poorly trained personnel within the court system. The court staff themselves acknowledged a number of shortcomings. Whilst it is acknowledged that the research sample is limited, there is little reason to believe that markedly different results would be obtained from other courts.
The researchers' recommendations address all of the issues raised by both the applicants and the court staff. In addition, the researchers' provide an overall assessment of the system and the need for intervention at a national level, including the need for further clarity of sections of the Act and regulations to be promulgated to support the processes outlined by the Act.

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