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Maintenance & church contributions

It sometimes happens in a maintenance case that one person lists a weekly or monthly contribution to the church as one of his expenses. The other party then sometimes alleges that this is not a necessary expense, and that that money could be better used for the child’s expenses. What are the views of the court on this?

This exact scenario has come up recently in two of my cases. A lot of people have strong religious beliefs and believe that they are obliged to pay ten percent of their salary towards the church on a monthly basis. The fact is that the courts do in fact recognise payments to a church to be a legitimate monthly expense.

In one of my cases my client, the male, was making a monthly payment to his church group. He worked offshore and was receiving a certain amount of dollars as an entertainment expense. This was a cash sum and many of his colleagues spent this money at pubs and restaurants. Our client however opted rather to save this money and give it to his church when he was at home every month.

In the above case our client used to take the dollars he received and place it in the tray when the collection tray came around. Nobody knew it was him leaving the money there, which amounted to approximately R2500 per month. However my client met a lady at the church who was also divorced like my client and going through a hard time financially. My client then decided to stop paying the church and to hand that money directly to his friend.

My client’s ex-wife had somehow found out about my client’s friendship with his new friend and that money had been paid to her by my client. My client’s ex-wife got jealous and the brought an application for maintenance against my client. She was looking after the two minor children born of the marriage and had custody over them.

One of my client’s ex-wife’s submissions was that she firstly denied that my client had been making payments to the church. She furthermore alleged that in the event of the court finding that my client had made payments to the church, that this was an unnecessary expense.

The only way of proving that my client had indeed been making the payments was to get an affidavit by the Minister admitting that the church had been receiving dollars, and that my client was the only member of the congregation who worked offshore. The Minister gave evidence in my client’s favour.

The court found that a contribution to a church is a legitimate monthly expense. The court found further that it was legitimate for our client to pay another person who was a member of the church instead of paying directly to the church for a couple of months.

This was a very interesting case. It also shows the length to which the courts in South Africa go to protect a person’s religious beliefs.

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