If you have separated or divorced from the father of your child, you are entitled to child maintenance. In Vanuatu, the legal process will be affected by your marital status. The biggest difference is that if you were married to the father of your children, the legal proceedings will take into consideration your divorce, property and any other marital factors to determine the amount given to you.
According to brochures obtained from the Vanuatu Women’s Center (VWC), child maintenance refers to ‘mane we papa blong pikinini hemi pem iko long mama blong pikinini taem we tufala istap wanwan. Mane ia hemi blong helpem mama wetem ol kakae, klos, skul fis mo blong pem ol narafala samting we i blong pikinini long laef blong hem.’
You can only ask for maintenance for children under the age of 18 and who are the children of you and your partner, including any that you have adopted.
How do I get child maintenance?
If you want to get child maintenance, you have to ask the Court to give an order to the father of your children to tell him when and how much to pay. If you are also getting a divorce, then you need to find a lawyer who will help you with your case. These proceedings can be done at the same time.
To get the order issued, you have to report the police that the father of your child hasn’t paid any maintenance, as it’s a crime. This can only be done after one month of separation. You will have to make a written statement, including how much you think he should pay, and you will have to supply a copy of a marriage certificate or marriage registration, if applicable. If you don’t have it, you can get a copy at Civil Status for a small fee. After you have made your statement, the police and public prosecutor (hemi wan loea we i wok blong kavman mo istap tekem ol kriminol kes blong ol man iko long Kot, Source: VWC) can take your case to court where they can issue an order to the father of your child to pay child maintenance.
What information do I need to provide when requesting for child maintenance?
You must be prepared to show the court evidence of your child’s expenses, including school fees, food, clothes and transport. The court will take this information into consideration as well as the salary of both you and the child’s father to determine how much he needs to pay.
What circumstances would prevent the court from ordering child maintenance?
The court can tell the father of your child not to pay if:
• You are living with another man
• Your salary is more or equal to his
• The father of your baby is sick
If you have reason to believe he is not telling the truth regarding his circumstances, or don’t agree with the order, you must provide evidence to the court.
How do I receive child maintenance?
It is a good idea to set up a bank account as the payments will be recorded and you won’t need to see the father of your child during the transaction. You simply need to give the account name and number to the public prosecutor who will then give it to the court when your case is being heard.
If you are unable to set up a bank account because you live too far away from a bank or for whatever reason, then make sure you write down the amount and date of payment. It is important to record this information in case he doesn’t pay in the future.
What if he doesn’t pay?
If the father of your child doesn’t pay child maintenance, you have to go back to court. There are two ways to do this – ask the police to bring him to court or you can get a lawyer who will take a Civil Court action against him. This is why it’s important to make sure you have all the right records and paper to ensure that you have evidence to win your case. Try to make sure that you don’t wait too long before going back to court. If the child maintenance that he owes is a substantial amount, it will be difficult for him to pay back and will also affect future payments.
If you go to the police you won’t need to pay a court fee, as it’s the police and Public Prosecutor who is taking the case to the court. If you decide to take civil action, you will have to pay a court fee of 5000vt – 10 000vt. The father of your child can be forced to reimburse this if the court finds him guilty of contempt of court. By taking the step of civil action, be prepared to find out about his salary, work arrangements, any other source of income or property that he has. This will help strengthen your case.
The court has the power to:
• Mekem man blong yu I pem faen
• Putem hem long kalabus
• Kivim wan Garinshee Order o oda blong bos blong man blong yu long wok I katem salari blong man blong yu mo pem mane ia iko stret long bank akaon blong yu
• Kivim oda blong mas salem ol ting blong hem mo pemaot blong hem ia.
What if he denies paternity?
It is very costly to get a paternity test conducted in Vanuatu. Proving paternity is made even more difficult especially if you only had a sexual relationship with the father. If the father of your child is denying paternity, you must take your case to Island Court (Aelan Kot) before your child turns one. After that, you must provide evidence by proving that he has assisted you financially or emotionally when you were pregnant and after birth or if he has admitted or shown that he is the father. Keep all records of communication including text messages and social media.
Unlike the Magistrate’s Court, the Island Court will not allow any lawyers. It is up to you to defend your case and you must pay a fee of 1000vt, which can only be given back to you if the father of your child is found guilty. As advised by VWC, ‘You must talem stret mo strong toktok taem we yu stap askem long kot blong I harem kes blong yu. Yu shud kat ol efidens bifo yu ko long Kot’ and ensure that you have reliable witnesses. You can seek up to 1000vt a week per child for child maintenance.
For more information, please visit the Vanuatu Women’s Centre.