Is there a duty on children to support their parents?
Children have a responsibility to support their parents and grandparents, but always subject to the rule that support must be claimed from closer relatives first.
The basis of a child’s duty to support parents is the sense of dutifulness or filial piety. In certain circumstances, even a minor child may have to support parents. As always, the criteria of need on the part of the person to be maintained and ability to support on the part of the person from whom support is claimed, must be present.
A parent who claims support from a child must prove his need and the child’s ability to support but a more stringent criterion of need is applied to parents than to children – indigence on the part of the parent is stated to be a condition.
In the case of Smith v Mutual and Federal Co Ltd 1998 4 SA 626 (C) the court emphasized that, to prove need, a stringent criterion of need must be established. For the claimants to succeed, they are required to prove not only that the deceased had provided support, but also their own indigence and inability to support themselves. Indigence is defined as extreme need or lack of the basic necessities of life.
In Oosthuizen v Stanley 1938 AD 322 328 the court referred to “the quality and condition of the persons to be supported”. In the same case, it was pointed out that where a parent must be supported it is not only his own needs but also those of his dependents that must be considered. In Van Vuuren v Sam 1972 2 SA 633 (A) 642 Rabie JA referred to the same criterion, but stressed that the support of parents must be confined to the basic needs, namely food, clothing, shelter, medicine and care in times of illness.
Is there a duty on grandparents to support their grandchildren?
The maintenance obligation towards a child is primarily the burden of the parents of the child. However, if the parents are not capable of meeting this obligation, it is inter alia transferred to the grandparents.
In Barnes v Union and South West Africa Insurance Co Ltd the court ruled:
“It seems clear that there is an order of priority under the common law. ‘If father and mother are lacking or are needy the burden of maintaining grandchildren and other further descendants has been laid by the civil law on the parental and maternal grandfather and the rest of the ascendants.”
Per this text there is a priority upon whom the burden to maintain children falls if the parents cannot maintain them. The burden first falls upon the grandparents, and if they cannot pay, the burden is transferred to the great-grandparents, before brothers or sisters are called on to pay maintenance. It would seem as if the direct line must first be exhausted before the collateral line is engaged for support.
Compiled by: Bertus Preller - Family Law Attorney
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Cases and Articles on Divorce Law and Family Law in the SA courts.
Legal news and case law in the South African courts, compiled by Family Law attorney, Bertus Preller.
Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Law Attorney in Cape Town.