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Child support dilemma: To sue or not to sue?

Saturday August 24 2019

child maintenance

The pursuit of child maintenance puts too much emphasis on finances and not enough on parents' involvement in their children's lives. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SIMON MBURU
By SIMON MBURU
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JOAN THATIAH
By JOAN THATIAH
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Thinking of taking your deadbeat to court? Good. That's the easy part. The hard part is in making him comply with the ruling after years of emotional turmoil.

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"I regret going to court" is how 37-year-old Abigail Oketch sums up her experience suing her ex-boyfriend for child support.

The mother of one admits that in the beginning, it was anger that sent her to the courts.

She was working in a bank when she fell pregnant after dating for two years. That relationship ended in a sour break-up soon after.

The man was no show all through pregnancy and birth. "When my son was three years old, I heard that he had got another woman pregnant and was looking after her child but not mine. So, I sued him at the children's court," she says.

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She made that decision five years ago. She describes the whole process as tedious and expensive.

She had consulted before and she was sort of prepared for the time and money it would take to get justice for her child.

PARENTING

What she hadn't seen coming was the litigation process that had her and her ex tearing at each other.

Eventually, she was awarded child maintenance which he pays. "It was like going to war. We both used everything we had against each other and I think this destroyed any chance we had of effectively co-parenting. He is pretty much a paycheck, not a father," she says.

In retrospect, she feels that the whole process puts too much emphasis on finances and not enough on their involvement in their children's lives.

She hopes that her child will prove to be as resilient as they claim children to be. "Only time will tell," she says.

You have seen the stories. Woman sues deadbeat man and she walks out with a hefty cheque. But that's just half of the story.

No one tells you whether the men honour the ruling or reveals what it really takes emotionally to go through the unending see-saw.

LEGAL OPTIONS

In August 2014, Sunday Nation carried a story based on research by Canadian researchers which claimed that by the age of 45, at least six out of 10 Kenyan women will be raising a child by themselves.

If these findings are anything to go by, these numbers can only have gone higher.

Over two per cent of all legal marriages have ended in legal divorce while more than twice this number had been separated but not legally divorced, says the 2009 Census report.

Children of these unions are entitled to material support by both parents.

Unlike yesteryears when men readily walked away from their spouses, today's woman has options and much more support in the form of organisations like with the federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) and Centre for Rights And Education (CREAW).

The rise in the publicity of high-profile cases where errant men in the limelight are ordered to pay up has also increased the number of women willing to brave the process.

On August 22, 2013, former Cabinet minister Fred Gumo was sued for the upkeep of a child that was born in 2012.

COMPLIANCE

The child's mother sought Sh150,000 as monthly upkeep. Similarly, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula was on August 20, 2013 ordered by a children's court to pay monthly upkeep of Sh270,000.

So, is suing for child support as easy as taking a deadbeat father to court and having him pay up? "I wish it was," says Nancy Kariuki.

Four years after a court ruling ordered her son's father to pay Sh40,000 monthly for his school fees and upkeep, they are back to the lawyers every other month.

"He has my house helps and relatives spying on me. The minute he hears that a man visited my house or was seen driving my car he refuses to pay. The back and forth is very draining.

"It's just that I lost my job last year. Otherwise, I would walk away from all of it; let him pay when he wants to," she shares.

Corine Wamaitha, 39, a PR practitioner, sued her children's father for child support eight years ago and is still conflicted about that decision.

The court ordered that he pays school fees and she caters for the maintenance. He paid only once.

"It was a lot of drama after that. I had to change lawyers three times. Some incidents involved the police after he stole the children and also attempted to change their schools without my knowledge. I told the lawyer to drop the case. I decided to hassle for them for my peace of mind.

"Surprisingly, he called me about a year ago and said he was ready to pay the fees. I let him. We are fine, for now," she says.

EMOTIONAL TURMOIL

She is happy about one thing though. "We set clear boundaries. The man also knows that he has a responsibility towards his children which is recognised by law," she says.

Ask a woman who sues for child support and she will tell you she was thinking about her child's rights.

She will only become aware of how vulnerable the process makes her feel when in motion.

Case in point, a nominated female MCA in Nyandarua County who took popular politician Maina Kamanda to court for child upkeep became the subject of ridicule with claims that she got her political nomination for sleeping with the veteran politician.

The MCA was seeking Sh200,000 upkeep money for the child born on June 10, 2018.

Wamaitha wishes someone had told her about how lonely the whole process can get.

MYTHS

She blames social myths, cultures, and clichés that suggest children primarily belong to and are the burden of their mothers.

"People around me did not understand why I needed to sue to force a man to raise his children. I had no support. I would get sick on the days leading up to the court appearances from the stress. I hated all of it," she recalls.

"We are told that mtoto ni wa mama! We should not go to court because mtoto huzaliwa na sahani yake! That is the biggest scam in this century!" says Betty Nkatha.

The mother of two is currently embroiled in a children's court case with two of her baby daddies.

She says that there is also the shaming of women who go after child support. "We are seen as loose or as if we are just using our babies to enrich ourselves. We are told to woman up.

"That we knew what we were getting into when we conceived. This gives deadbeats leeway to avoid responsibility," she says.

Her children are aged nine and five. Nkatha says it is not just about the money, but about manning up and being the father the child needs.

FINANCIAL STABILITY

On August 9, 2012, the son of ex-president Daniel Moi, Philip, paid Sh8.1 million that he owed as child support and maintenance arrears to his ex-wife Rossana Pluda following a High Court order.

Social media flared up. ‘Why does she need all that money?' many wondered. A woman can also go through the process and ends up worse off.

The amounts could be too little or she may not be ready for joint custody, or her career stalls especially if she wants to go out of the country when the case is in progress.

"The amount is never adequate or worth the effort. I no longer follow my court case after the court-ordered Sh3,000 monthly contributions from my baby daddy, yet he earns Sh70,000. Monthly diapers alone for my two-year old cost more than Sh3,000!" says Monica Warigia.

The system is old fashioned in that it is designed to serve divorced parents who are steadily employed.

Things get more complicated where the baby daddy has no formal employment.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

This has been the case of Maryanne Odumbe who is a mother of twin boys. "My ex-husband told the chief that he had no income and could only afford Sh400 per week," she says.

"The chief referred us to the children's department at the county commissioner's office, but I saw no sense in following it up. I'll raise my kids my way and God will make a way for me."

But there are men like Rueben Bosire who willingly pay up. "I have a 10-year-old son whose basic and extra necessities I take care of. His mother and I are separated. She's married. But, we agree that this is my son and I ought to cater to his needs as a responsible father ought to do," says the medical doctor.

Sadly, men like Bosire are not the norm. There are those who even after a court order just will not pay for child support. Others even change jobs to escape.

What options does a mother have in those instances?

PRISON SENTENCE

Murigi Kamande, a High Court advocate, says there are no guarantees.

The only guarantee would be getting an attachment of his earnings which is impossible if he is informally employed.

Some countries in the US have more advanced laws that provide for the seizing of the property, suspending business licences or even drivers licences in cases of delinquent fathers. We are not there yet.

According to the children's act, if a court orders for financial maintenance or contribution by a runaway baby daddy, and he refuses to pay, the court can also issue a warrant for imprisonment for not less than five days and not more than four weeks.

A woman has to chase the matter again through the courts if the man does not comply. A daunting task, many say.

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