In what was described as a victory for single parents, the Cape High Court ruled that both parents should be held liable for the school fees of a child. What this means is that single parents, with custody of children but no financial support from a spouse, can only be held liable for 50% of their children’s school fees.
It also means they can apply for an exemption from any fees if they can show they are not able to afford them.
In the past, school governing bodies have often refused to grant deserving single parents fee concessions if they were unable to persuade their former partners to submit details of annual income.
In addition to the High Court ruling, the regulation governing the school’s position on exemptions is set to be scrapped if the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill is endorsed by parliament.
Once this legislation is enacted, a single or divorced parent will become eligible for a fee exemption simply by supplying an affidavit stating that the other parent is untraceable or unwilling to provide details of income.
So why is the Western Cape Department of Education intent on appealing against the court judgment?
Perhaps it is because the ruling and the law change could put the onus on schools to recoup the fees from the absent parent.
According to Stats SA figures, in 2014 there were more than 1.1 million registered births. Of those, 64% had no information about the fathers of the children. Even if half of that number do not take responsibility for their children, school management will have a torrid time recouping school fees. It is a tough position to be in.
But so is the position of a struggling single parent trying to put a child through school.
Certainly, children should not be penalised in this process. If need be, the national Department of Basic Education should provide assistance to schools experiencing financial shortfalls because of untraceable parents.