Rich, famous drown in maintenance debt

HARARE - Responsibility is one thing that several people are afraid of in life, which has seen many men including popular figures being dragged before the courts for failing to pay maintenance towards the upkeep of their children.

Politicians, business people, pastors, musicians and ordinary citizens have not been spared with maintenance cases becoming a common phenomenon in the courts.

A number of public figures have appeared before the courts to either settle maintenance disputes, negotiate downwards or upwards variation or facing criminal defaults.

Given the rate at which people are divorcing, as shown by the number of cases that appear before the High Court every week, many men are at risk of being dragged to court after failing to sponsor the upkeep of their children.

In Zimbabwe, it is a criminal offence for one to default in paying maintenance.

According to the Maintenance Act, “Subject to Subsection (1) any person against whom an order to which this Section applies has been made who fails to make any particular payment in terms of the order shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding a year”.

With the current economic hardships pushing many people into the poverty trap, there is a greater risk of men failing to pay for maintenance, raising chances of them being dragged before the courts or getting imprisoned.

The rising number of defaulters is indicative of these prevailing difficult times in Zimbabwe where several companies are downsizing and kicking employees onto the streets.

Only a week ago, former CAPS United president and former Premier Soccer League chairperson, Twine Phiri, was issued with a warrant of arrest after he disappeared from the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, where he was set to appear and answer to charges of defaulting paying maintenance.

According to the court papers, the complainant in the matter is Phiri’s former wife, Keresia Phiri, who resides in Chadcombe, Harare.

It is the State’s case that on February 27, 2014 and at Chitungwiza Civil Court, Phiri (49), who resides in Marlborough, Harare, was ordered to pay $2 913 per month as maintenance for his three children with effect from March 31, 2014.

Phiri reportedly defaulted, leading to the criminal charge.

He is not been the only one who has fallen under the same predicament, where he had to be dragged to court to offer support to his children.

Only recently, Mashonaland Holdings chief executive officer Manfred Mahari found himself in the dock for the same reason.

Despite claims that he bought two of his children a Mercedes Benz each, Mahari is reportedly failing to pay for their school and tuition fees.

He is accused of having failed to pay $31 000 maintenance for his three children.

Mahari pleaded not guilty to the offence, arguing that he had full school fees benefits from his employment contract but was suspended in December last year, without any benefits.

In 2015, Energy minister Samuel Undenge lost a High Court case in which he sought to stop paying maintenance for his daughter Bongai Tafadzwa Undenge.

This was after Bongai had previously won a court order for her father to continue maintaining her until she was self-sufficient.

Musician Suluman Chimbetu, is also one of the people that have once been dragged before the courts over the same maintenance issue, where he was convicted of contravening Section 23 (1) of the Maintenance Act, following a delayed payment of $800 towards the upkeep of his two children and their mother Marygold Mutemasango.

Questions have, however, been raised as to whether it would need the intervention of the courts for one to take care of his children.

There are circumstances where a person is no longer able to pay the initially agreed amount of money because of changed circumstances in his life.

Under these circumstances, one can always apply for downward variation to adjust the amount he pays in line with the money that he gets on a monthly basis.

But in many circumstances that lead to defaulting partners to being dragged to the courts, they would have totally stopped paying money towards the upkeep of their children.

However, some lawyers claim that the Section of the law that criminalises failure to pay maintenance is vague and defective with the effect of infringing on rights to fair trial.

Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba recently challenged the law, arguing that it is undefined to constitute an offence.

He successfully applied for his case to be referred to the Constitutional Court for a proper interpretation or that it be expunged from the statutes.

“A reading of Section 23 (1) shows that the subsection is subject to a certain subsection. It follows therefore that the subsection referred to which cannot be identified in the Act might contain certain preconditions for the charge to be competent,” Nyazamba argued.

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