WITH a rise in the number of Jamaicans seeking opportunities to live and work overseas, one area affected is family life, where one parent migrates and leaves a family behind. Sometimes they honour their obligations to continue maintaining the minor children they have left behind, and sometimes they cut all ties.
What should you as the other parent do in a situation where the mother/father is overseas and refuses to support their children back in Jamaica? There are legal steps to take, and they are outlined below.
1. Note that the Ministry of Justice processes applications regarding maintenance for children in keeping with the Maintenance Orders (Facilities For Enforcement) Act. The enforcement of maintenance orders is done in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the courts of Jamaica in respect of those countries and states which have reciprocal agreements with Jamaica. This means that children who have parents living in these jurisdictions who are not supporting them are able to benefit from this arrangement.
Procedure: Applicants may visit any of the island's family courts/parish courts for further information on how to access this service.
2. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade facilitates enforcement of maintenance orders by transmitting court orders issued in Jamaica for child maintenance to the authorities in the country where the delinquent parent resides for the enforcement to take place. Once this is done, periodic follow-up is done at the request of the person who applied for the order if there is a delay in enforcement. The Jamaican courts also make it possible for a parent living overseas to file for child support from a parent living in Jamaica, provided that the country is a “reciprocating state”.
3. What is a “reciprocating state”? The list of reciprocating states as set out in the Maintenance Order (Facilities for Enforcement) Regulations are, in The United States of America — Maryland, New Jersey, Florida; Canada — Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island; Caribbean —Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands; Other countries — United Kingdom, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Bailiwick of Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Niue, and Western Samoa.
4. A person may still file for child support even where the delinquent parent resides in a non-reciprocating state. The court may make orders to facilitate alternative means of service for the delinquent parent to appear in court on a specified date and other orders as appropriate, having regard to the location of the parties. However, where a court in Jamaica has made a maintenance order against a person and that person is resident in a non-reciprocating state, the person who filed the order will be required to initiate proceedings in that state by sending a certified copy of the court order for registration and enforcement. It is strongly recommended that the counsel of an attorney be sought in this instance.
5. You also have the option, if you are dealing with a parent in a non-reciprocating state, to secure a child support order from the court in Jamaica and seek to have it domesticated in the state or country where the other parent resides. The courts in the United States, for example, may honour a legitimate order of a foreign court and enforce that order there. You can get help from the child support enforcement organisation in the jurisdiction where the other parent resides. Otherwise, you can get an attorney to domesticate the order on your behalf.
6. In the case where the child is not a citizen of Jamaica but lives in Jamaica with the parent who was granted custody, the law in Jamaica concerning maintenance of children does not make a distinction between minors who are citizens and non-citizens. Therefore a person may file a claim for such orders concerning any child in Jamaica.