A Guide to Child Maintenance


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A Guide to Child Maintenance

  1. 1. © National Committee for Families and Children June 2006 Contributors: Starla Acosta, Judith Alpuche, Aimee Jex, Margaret Nicholas, Tylon Tillett Resources:Families and Children’s Act 2000, The Belize Family Court, The Convention on the Rights of the Child Design and Printing: DOLPHIN PRODUCTIONS LTD.
  2. 2. Child Maintenance in Belize FOR E W OR DThis booklet “A Guide to Child Maintenance in Belize” wasdeveloped with the idea of providing an explanation ofthe child maintenance system in Belize.The booklet is intended to provide a step-by-step guidefor persons seeking maintenance and an explanation ofthe procedures that persons seeking maintenance forchildren must follow.The information included in the booklet comes from:• The Families and Children’s Act• The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and• The Belize Family Court Manual b e l ize in m a in te n a n c e c h i ld -i-
  3. 3. Child Maintenance in Belize TA B LE OF C ON T E N TS Foreword i Table of Contents ii Applying for Maintenance 1 Maintenance Procedures In Belize City 3 Maintenance Agreement 4 Maintenance Order 5 Setting up a Maintenance Agreement 6 Setting up a Maintenance Order 11 Maintenance Procedures In the Districts 13 Consequences for Non-payment 14b e l ize Changes in Maintenance Payments 16inm a in te n a n c e Fact Sheet 18c h i ld - ii -
  4. 4. Child Maintenance in Belize MA I N T E N A N C E OF CH I LD R EN WHAT IS MAINTENANCE?When parents separate and the relationship betweenthem ends, their obligation to provide support for theirchildren continues. All children are entitled to this supportwhether or not their parents were married.The parent’s duty to provide financial support for theirchildren takes priority over all their other commitments,except for supporting themselves and any other personthey have a legal duty to support, such as a child bornfrom another relationship.After separation, one parent is usually responsible for theday-to-day care and protection of the child. This parent isusually the one who requests financial support from theother parent and is called the Applicant in this book. Theother parent, the Respondent, is usually responsible formaking payments to that first parent to help to supportthe child. This payment is called maintenance.” According to the laws of Belize, every person under the age b e l ize of eighteen (18) years is considered a child and is unable to maintain him or herself because of their young age. in m a in te n a n c eChildren are therefore entitled to be maintained by theirparents or by other persons who are legally responsiblefor them. c h i ld -1-
  5. 5. Child Maintenance in Belize Children are entitled to be maintained until: they legally marry or legally enter employment, or they turn 16 years (if their parents were married), or they turn 18 years (if their parents were not married), or beyond the age of 18 if they are disabled or in school full time. The Laws of Belize say that: EVERY WOMAN must maintain 1. her own children and 2. her grandchildren, if their parents are unable to maintain them due to illness, disability or in the event that the parents cannot be located. EVERY MAN must maintain 1. his own children, whether or not he is married to their mother, 2. the children that his i f e w may have (stepchildren) livingb e l ize with her at the time of their marriage, as long as the children are under the age of 18 years, andinm a in te n a n c e 3. his grandchildren, if their parents are unable to maintain them due to illness, disability or in the event that the parents cannot located. bec h i ld -2-
  6. 6. Child Maintenance in Belize A P P LY I N G FOR MAINTENANCE WHO CAN APPLY FOR A MAINTENANCE ORDER? THE MOTHER THE FATHER THE GUARDIAN MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES IN BELIZE CITYIn Belize City, all maintenance applications are madethrough the Belize Family Court. The other districts donot have family courts, therefore the application process isdifferent. (For the application procedures in the districts,refer to section entitled “Maintenance Procedures in theDistricts”.)When applying for maintenance, the Applicant mustdiscuss his/her options with an Intake Welfare Officerof the Belize Family Court. The Intake Welfare Officerwill assist the Applicant to explore and determine whichoption is best for the Applicant based on the situationpresented. b e l izeThere are two ways of applying for maintenance in Belize inCity. m a in te n a n c e c h i ld -3-
  7. 7. Child Maintenance in Belize The Applicant can either make a… 1. Maintenance Agreement:  This is a friendly agreement that is made between the two parents with conditions and rules made up and decided together by both parents in the best interest of the child. The Belize Family Court’s goal is to bring parents together so that decisions can be made in a peaceful way that serves the best interests of the children involved. A. Maintenance Agreement: • is made with the understanding and cooperation of both parents instead of being decided and ordered by a Magistrate. • may receive more support and the conditions are more respected by both parents because they developed it and agreed on it together. • encourages constructive communication b e l ize between the parents in the best interest of the child.in • helps to build a better relationship between m a in te n a n c e parents. • is quicker and easier to finalize.c h i ld • is easily changed if circumstances change. -4-
  8. 8. Child Maintenance in BelizeOR a2. Maintenance Order: The conditions of a Maintenance Order are decided upon by a magistrate.• It becomes necessary to make a Maintenance Order when:• the Respondent is totally uncooperative or refuses to pay maintenance.• the Respondent does not respond to the notification letters sent by the court.• the Respondent does not agree to an amount to be paid for maintenance.• the Respondent has repeatedly broken the conditions agreed upon in the voluntary agreement order.• The Applicant chooses this option first. b e l ize After speaking with an Intake Welfare Officer about their in personal situation, the Applicant should be better able to m a in te n a n c e make an educated decision on whether he/she wants to seek a Maintenance Agreement or a Maintenance Order. c h i ld -5-
  9. 9. Child Maintenance in Belize The Belize Family Court does not recommend what type of application is to be made. That decision is left entirely up to the Applicant SE TT I N G U P A MA I N T E N A N CE A G R E E ME N T The person that is interested in setting up a voluntary Maintenance Agreement (the Applicant) must tell the Intake Welfare Officer what they wish to do. This is called the “action plan.” 1. The Intake Welfare Officer records the situation of the Applicant, explains the procedure, and completes an Intake Record. 2. A notification letter is then sent to the Respondent through the post office or delivered by the Court to the Respondent’s address. This letter requests that the Respondent attend a meeting with the Intake Welfare Officer. 3. If there is no response, a second notification letter isb e l ize sent.inm a in te n a n c ec h i ld -6-
  10. 10. Child Maintenance in Belize4. If the Respondent attends the meeting with the IntakeWelfare Officer, he/she must first agree to two thingsbefore the process can go any further:a) that he/she is the parent of the child for whommaintenance is being sought and b) that he/she agrees to provide maintenance for thechild.If the Respondent is in agreement with these two things,then the process can continue.5. The Intake Welfare Officer will organize a meeting withboth parents to discuss:the amount of maintenance to be paid, andthe terms of maintenance, that is when and how often thepayments will be made.This information is then recorded in the MaintenanceAgreement. b e l ize in m a in te n a n c e c h i ld -7-
  11. 11. Child Maintenance in Belize 6. If the Respondent agrees that she/he is the parent of the child, she/he is asked to sign an Acknowledgement Form. 7. The Respondent is now responsible for going to the Court on agreed dates to pay the agreed amount of maintenance to the cashier. Each time a payment is made, the Respondent is issued a receipt.b e l izeinm a in te n a n c ec h i ld -8-
  12. 12. Child Maintenance in BelizeIf the Respondent• does not respond to either of the two notification letters from the Court,• says he/she is not the parent of the child,• does not agree to an amount to be paid for maintenance, or• misses payments agreed upon under the Maintenance Agreement;Then the Applicant has the following options: • Support the child alone without the Respondent’s assistance, • Take the Respondent to court to prove paternity, • Take the Respondent to court to gain maintenance, or b e l ize • Leave the court to consider the situation and decide on the in best course of action. m a in te n a n c e c h i ld -9-
  13. 13. Child Maintenance in Belize In cases where the respondent misses a payment UNDER the maintenance agreement, the Intake Welfare Officer may remind the respondent of his/her obligation or can inform the applicant of their options to make an application for a maintenance order. Under a voluntary agreement, the court cannot issue penalties. In cases where the Respondent is taken to court to prove paternity, the Court will also determine the rate of maintenance payments.b e l izeinm a in te n a n c e Image 1—Sample Application for Maintenancec h i ld - 10 -
  14. 14. Child Maintenance in Belize SE TT I N G U P A MA I N T E N A N CE OR D E RIf efforts to make a voluntary Maintenance Agreementhave failed, then the Applicant can choose to pursue aMaintenance Order.1. The Applicant must meet with the Intake WelfareOfficer to request a hearing. The court recommends thatthe Applicant bring the following documents; • Social Security card, • marriage license, and • the child’s birth certificate.These documents can assist the Court and speed up theprocess.2. The Applicant must pay a small fee to the court for theissuing of a summons to the other parent (the Respondent)to attend a court hearing.3. At this hearing, the magistrate will decide the amount b e l izeof maintenance to be paid, how often it will be paid, andthe dates of payment. in m a in te n a n c e c h i ld - 11 -
  15. 15. Child Maintenance in Belize The factors considered when deciding how much the Respondent will pay are: • Both parents’ current income • Both parents’ living expenses • Both parents’ financial duties to other children (if there are other children) • the number of children to be maintained • age, sex and health of the children to be maintained.b e l izeinm a in te n a n c ec h i ld - 12 -
  16. 16. Child Maintenance in Belize MA I N T E N A N C E P R OC E D U RES I N T H E D I S T R I CTSThe Family Court does not have branches in the districts,therefore, the application procedure is different . Onemajor difference is that Voluntary Agreements cannot bemade in the districts. AP P LY I N G F O R MA I N T E N A NCE I N T H E D I S T R I CTSThe Applicant must go to the Magistrate’s Court in thedistrict where he/she resides and must bring the followingdocuments:• Social Security card or birth certificate,• marriage certificate, and the• child/children’s birth certificates.2. The Applicant for maintenance must inform the Clerk ofCourt that he/she is interested in applying for maintenance.In the districts, Applicants and Respondents do not have b e l izethe opportunity of making a voluntary agreement sincethere are no Intake Welfare Officers to facilitate theprocess. in m a in te n a n c e3. The Clerk of Court then fills out an Information ofComplaint Form. c h i ld - 13 -
  17. 17. Child Maintenance in Belize 4. The Applicant must then pay a summons fee. 5. The summons to attend court is then passed to the Police Department. The Police Department then issues the summons to the Respondent to ensure his/her attendance in Court. 6. If the Respondent does not attend court, then a warrant is issued for his/her arrest. 7. These procedures are executed within two to three weeks. During the court session, the magistrate decides the details to the maintenance payments: how much the Respondent will pay and the dates that the payments are to be paid. CON S E Q U E N C E S OF N OT PAYING MA I N T E N A N C E Once a maintenance order is made, either by the Family Court or the Magistrate’s Court, the Respondent, by law, MUST pay maintenance as outlined in the order.b e l izeinm a in te n a n c ec h i ld - 14 -
  18. 18. Child Maintenance in BelizeIf maintenance is not paid the magistrate can decide totake the following actions.An Attachment Order can be made to the Respon-dent’s and forwarded to the Family Court for mainte-nance payments.A distress warrant can be ordered by the Magistrate thatcan cause the assets of the Respondent to be seizedand sold. The profits of which will be used to meet themaintenance payments.If there is no other way for the maintenance payment tobe made, then the Respondent can be imprisoned. Analternative to imprisonment is Community ServiceThe magistrate, with the agreement of the respondent,can order him or her do a certain number of hours ofCommunity Service.No new arrears will be added to the outstanding amountwhile the Respondent is imprisoned. b e l ize in m a in te n a n c e c h i ld - 15 -
  19. 19. Child Maintenance in Belize MAY I R E QU E S T F OR A CHANGE IN MA I N T E N A N C E PAY ME N TS ? In the event of a change in circumstances, the Applicant or Respondent may apply to the court for a Variation Order to increase or decrease the amount to be paid. This can only be done by the Court (or by a Magistrate where an order was issued). A parent may apply for a Variation Order if: • The child develops a chronic and costly illness. • The child’s level of education increases (e.g. when the child graduates from primary school and starts high school) and demands more finance. • The child requires more food and clothing due to growth. • The cost of living increases. Or if the Respondentb e l ize • becomes physically or mentally sick, orin • can justify a decrease in maintenance paymentm a in te n a n c e due to a decrease in salary or responsibility to other children changes, in case of an expanding family.c h i ld - 16 -
  20. 20. Child Maintenance in BelizeThe Applicant may also take action against the Respondentin the event of a change in circumstances; however, it isadvisable that the Applicant seek advice from the IntakeWelfare Officer before doing so. The court may only cancel the whole or any part of any sum due under an order if the person responsible to pay was prevented from doing so due to an illness or mental disability.Despite what happens between the parents of a child,the child’s needs are the first priority. Remember, whenparents disagree, the child is always caught in the middle,because he or she longs for the love and attention ofBOTH parents.Let us work together to ensure that the needs of ourchildren are met, and that decisions are made in the bestinterest of our children. b e l ize in m a in te n a n c e c h i ld - 17 -
  21. 21. Child Maintenance in Belize FA C T S H E E T The current maximum paid to a child under the Married Person’s Act is $50.00. (Chapter 175) The parent to pay maintenance (respondent) is bound by the ruling of the court and the laws of Belize to pay the maintenance of the child according to the decisions made in the court order. The fee for the summons process is currently $2.50 in Belize City and all districts Magistrate Courts. According to the Families and Children’s Act, children with disabilities are entitled to the maximum maintenance. An order against a parent shall cease to have effect if that parent is granted custody of the child for whom the maintenance was being paid or if the order is revoked. Parents are still liable to pay maintenance if their child is in foster care or in an institution. The government mayb e l ize apply for maintenance.inm a in te n a n c ec h i ld - 18 -
  22. 22. Child Maintenance in Belize C ON TA C T I N F OR MAT I ONCourt Address Location Telephone FaxBelize 3rd Floor Belize City 227-4114 227-0068Family Commercial 227-4107Court, Center, Albert StreetBelmopan Market Square Belmopan City 822-2445 822-0968MagistrateCourtBenqueViejo del Carmen Benque Viejo 823-2631 823-2632Magistrate del CarmenCourt TownCorozal 5th Avenue Corozal Town 422-2340 422-0116MagistrateCourt Orange Walk Hospital Orange Walk 322-2265 322-0485 Magistrate Crescent TownCourt San Ignacio 2nd Floor, San Ignacio 824-2515 824-4269Magistrate Administration TownCourt Bldg, King St. Stann Creek Sisters of the Dangriga 522-2251 522-0056 b e l izeMagistrate Holy Family Avenue Court inToledo Administration Punta 722-2017 722-2566Magistrate Bldg. Gorda Town m a in te n a n c eCourt Front Street c h i ld - 19 -
  23. 23. The National Committee for Families and Children 62 Cleghorn Street Belize City, Belize Tel: (501) 223-0059 (501) 223-1180 Fax: (501) 223-1229 Email: ncfc@btl.net “Championing the rights and welfare of Belizean families and children.”