There are growing trends of parents moving outside the country and leaving their children behind. It is not far from home to talk about a father who has left his wife and child in Zimbabwe and relocated to South Africa. These scenarios are a breeding ground for irresponsible parents to neglect their minor children. Our law is, however, alive to such predicaments and has provided for maintenance across borders.

What is Maintenance across borders?

Maintenance across borders is a concept which relates to the facilitation of the enforcement of maintenance orders made by a court from one country to another country. Suffice to state is that the child's best interest is always of paramount importance in the eyes of the law when dealing with maintenance cases. It therefore, follows that any person recognized by the law as a responsible person, is liable to maintain his or her child. A responsible person would typically be the biological parent of that child.

When a responsible parent fails to maintain his or her child, a maintenance order can be sought in the court of competent jurisdiction. There are laws in various countries which facilitate for the enforcement of such an order by a court from one country to another country.

This article will do two things namely,

  1. Setting out how a maintenance order obtained in Zimbabwe will be enforced in another country;
  2. Setting out how a maintenance order from another country can be enforced within Zimbabwe.

1. Enforcing a maintenance order granted in Zimbabwe in another country.

The starting point is whether the responsible person is resident in a reciprocating country. This is provided for under Section 4 of the Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act (Chapter 5:10). Most reciprocating countries are within the territory of the common wealth. These countries include South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England and Ireland to mention but a few.

Once it is established that the responsible person resides in a reciprocating country, the Zimbabwean court will proceed to send to the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, a certified copy of the order so that it can be transmitted to the appropriate country.

2. Enforcing a maintenance order obtained outside Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe.

Our Zimbabwean courts also have power to confirm maintenance orders made in another reciprocating country.

If the maintenance order was made in the absence of the party against whom the maintenance order was made, that order has to be confirmed by the Zimbabwean courts. This is stipulated in Section 6 of the Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act (Chapter 5:10). When and if such an order is confirmed, it will be registered in the Zimbabwean courts. The maintenance order will therefore come into effect in Zimbabwe.

The long arm of justice has put in place facilities to enforce maintenance orders across different countries including Zimbabwe to ensure parents maintain their children. Expert legal practitioners can assist with the process and ensure that all that is required by the law is adhered to and all this is done to ensure that the best interests of the child are secured as per the constitutional requirements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.