Securing Maintenance Dues: High Court Asserts Authority to Attach Retirement Funds for Arrear Payments in South Africa.

I.K.L v S.E.L and Others (11212 / 2013) [2023] ZAGPJHC 1235 (26 October 2023)

Summary of the Case

Facts of the Case

The crux of the case revolves around the enforcement of a maintenance order. The applicant sought the issue of a warrant of execution for arrears in maintenance against the movable and immovable property of the respondent. The Maintenance Act was central to the proceedings, particularly section 27, which details the procedure for obtaining and executing such a warrant. Despite the respondent’s contentions of factual disputes regarding the quantum of arrear maintenance and an alleged variation of the maintenance order, the court found these contentions unsubstantiated and not constituting a genuine dispute of fact.

Case Law Referenced

  1. Greenhill v Discovery Preservation Pension Fund administered by: Discovery Life Investments Services Ltd
    • The judgment by Manoim J in this case was pivotal, establishing that the High Court has the jurisdiction to issue a warrant of execution in maintenance cases, thereby expanding the interpretative reach of the Maintenance Act.
  2. Wightman t/a JW Construction v Headfour (Pty) Ltd and Another
    • This case was cited to establish what constitutes a real dispute of fact. The Supreme Court of Appeal held that a genuine dispute requires a serious and unambiguous contestation of the fact in question.
  3. VDB v VDB
    • Siwendu J’s ruling clarified the provisions of the Maintenance Act regarding disputes about the quantum owing under a pre-existing maintenance order, indicating the lack of a mechanism to resolve such disputes before the issue of a writ.


  • The Maintenance Act (Act No. 99 of 1998)
    • Sections 27(1) and 27(2) dictate the procedures for issuing a warrant of execution against a party who has defaulted on maintenance payments.
    • Section 3 establishes the jurisdiction of magistrate’s courts as maintenance courts.
    • Section 26(4) was interpreted in light of the High Court’s jurisdiction to issue a warrant of execution.
  • Magistrates’ Courts Act, 1944 (Act 32 of 1944)
    • Defines the establishment and jurisdiction of magistrate’s courts, which are also deemed as maintenance courts for the purposes of the Maintenance Act.

Importance of the Case

The case holds significant importance for several reasons:

  1. Jurisdictional Clarity
    • It clarifies the High Court’s jurisdiction in the execution of maintenance orders, which could potentially streamline the enforcement process, thereby ensuring that maintenance obligations are more effectively met.
  2. Procedural Precedent
    • The judgment provides a detailed procedural guide on the issuance and execution of warrants for maintenance arrears, serving as a precedent for future cases.
  3. Non-Variation Clauses
    • The case reinforces the legal stance on non-variation clauses within settlement agreements, emphasizing the necessity for formal written amendments to be recognized legally.
  4. Dispute Resolution
    • The case elucidates the approach to disputes of fact in maintenance proceedings, setting a threshold for what constitutes a genuine dispute, thereby potentially reducing frivolous claims and defenses.
  5. Legal Interpretation
    • The case underscores the interpretative flexibility that may be required in the application of the Maintenance Act, influencing how legal practitioners and courts approach similar cases.

In conclusion, this case serves as a crucial benchmark for family law practitioners, highlighting the importance of formal processes and documentation in the enforcement of maintenance orders. It further illustrates the judicial commitment to the legislative intent behind the Maintenance Act, ensuring the proper maintenance of those it aims to protect. The implications of this case extend beyond the parties involved and will likely impact the legal strategies employed in future maintenance enforcement litigation.

This case reaffirms the significance of adhering to the formalities required for the variation of maintenance agreements. As outlined, informal attempts to alter the terms of a maintenance order, particularly those enshrined in a settlement agreement with a non-variation clause, are legally futile. The insistence on formality serves to protect the integrity of the judicial process and the interests of the parties who rely on these orders for their livelihood. It also prevents any unilateral and informal adjustments that could unfairly prejudice the rightful recipients of maintenance.

By directing the registrar to issue a writ of execution, the judgement sets a valuable precedent for similar cases, especially concerning the execution against retirement funds. It clarifies that retirement annuities can be subject to such writs, ensuring that maintenance claimants have access to a debtor’s substantial assets when other movable or immovable properties are insufficient to satisfy the order. This decision fortifies the legal position of maintenance beneficiaries and provides a clear pathway for the enforcement of arrear maintenance.

The writ of execution in this matter was issued against the respondent’s retirement annuity and other pension or retirement funds managed by the third party, namely the pension fund administrator. This form of execution is particularly significant as it taps into a form of asset that is often considered protected and not easily accessible to creditors. The court’s order demonstrates the legal possibility of reaching into such funds for satisfying substantial arrear maintenance claims, thereby providing a critical avenue for maintenance beneficiaries to secure the payments awarded to them by the court.

Summarised by Bertus Preller, a Family Law and Divorce Law attorney at Maurice Phillips Wisenberg in Cape Town. A blog, managed by SplashLaw, for more information on Family Law read more here.