Divorcing parents battle it out over school fees

Divorcing parents battle it out over school fees. Picture: File

Divorcing parents battle it out over school fees. Picture: File

Published Feb 20, 2024


Private or public school – this was the question the court had to deal with after the mother insisted on her children going to a private school, while the father said he could only afford to pay for a public school.

The parents are involved in an acrimonious divorce, which has been dragging on heels for the past five years.

The father of the two children, who are living with the mother, agreed to pay maintenance to the children and his estranged wife, pending the final divorce.

The mother then returned to the Western Cape High Court, as the father had put his foot down on paying for the children to attend a private school. The mother, on the other hand, said she would have nothing other than a private school for their children.

During the past five years the parties have been embroiled in ongoing litigation relating to the husband’s alleged non-compliance with the interim maintenance order. At one stage she asked the court to hold her husband in contempt of court for not honouring the interim maintenance order.

In this regard she managed to obtain an order for his imprisonment. The husband was arrested and spent a few hours in the Pollsmoor Prison, after which he was released as he was appealing against the contempt of court order.

Back in court now, the wife asked for an order that her husband has to pay the arrears in school fees – for the private school the children had attended last year and were due to attend this year.

She also asked for an order that if he failed to pay the fees within 48 hours, his elderly parents had to foot the bill for the private school.

The wife now wants her husband back in prison if he or his parents do not pay the outstanding and pending school fees. This time she asked that he be sent to prison for six months or such alternative period as the court may determine.

The husband meanwhile denied that he was not honouring his maintenance obligations. He said the earlier court order only required him to, among others, pay the children’s school fees. According to him the order did not require him to pay the school fees for a specific school, but only that he must pay for the children’s comprehensive education costs.

In addition, he contended that while he cannot afford the school fees for the school that the children were attending last year, he is prepared to, and able to pay the school fees for a less expensive school.

The father said the annual fees of the government school which he wanted his children to attend, is R43 525. This while the annual fees for the private school is more than R270 000 per year.

The children attended a private school until the end of last year, but due to the impasse between the parties, the children have not been enrolled in any school for this academic year.

The father said he had arranged for the children to attend a certain government school, but his wife refused to consent to the children moving to any school other than the private school.

Acting Judge M Adhikari commented that no evidence was placed before the court as to why moving the children to a less expensive school would not be in their best interests.

The judge expressed his concern about the fact that the children were not enrolled in any school, given that the academic year had started. Counsel for the father told the court that the children were accepted in the government school, for which he is willing to pay.

The mother, however, said her children were accustomed to a private school and would not adjust to a government school environment. The judge commented that there was no evidence to support this notion.

The judge pointed out that the earlier order did not state the husband had to pay the fees for a certain school. It only compelled him to pay “the children’s comprehensive educational costs”.

The husband said he could still afford to pay for private schooling last year, but he could no longer do so. He explained that he had to take a bond on his property and he obtained loans to enable him to comply with his maintenance obligations.

In coming to the husband’s aid, the judge found the husband was not in contempt of court as he was more than willing to pay for the children's education – at a government school. The court also frowned upon the wife’s argument that the paternal grandparents should then pay the fees.

“There was no basis on which to hold the paternal grandparents liable,” the judge said in turning down the wife’s application.

The judge was not impressed with the wife’s application and said the only reason why a punitive costs order was not granted against her was because she was unemployed and her sole source of income was the maintenance paid by her husband. If a punitive costs order was granted, her husband would in any event have to foot the legal bill.

Pretoria News