Parents have the legal responsibility to provide financially for their children, even if they no longer live under the same roof. Child maintenance can make a significant difference to the lives of families.
This was emphasised during the latest edition of the Legally Speaking webinar series, themed ‘Child Custody, Support and Maintenance’, hosted by Project Women Brunei with support from the United States (US) Embassy in Brunei Darussalam.
Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy Jeffrey Barrus highlighted that in any custody conflict, it’s crucial that parents do not lose sight of the importance of making decisions in the best interests of their children.
“The choices they make now (or the decisions a court makes for them) will affect the child’s development, as well as the relationship of the child with the parents, in a number of crucial ways for years to come,” he said.
He also stated that the child’s best interests are both long-term and short-term concerns which include the consideration of the child’s physical and emotional well-being and their health, financial, educational, moral, cultural and religious interests.
“This is quite a difficult challenge for parents undergoing a divorce, especially when financial support becomes a central issue. It becomes a crucial part if the child suffers from any physically or mentally different abilities which can take a toll on the parent who gets the custody of the child,” Barrus iterated.
One of the speakers featured at the webinar was Syariah lawyer from Daud Ismail and Company Advocates and Solicitors Mohamad Affendy Junaidi, who brought focus ‘Child Custody, Support and Maintenance under Syariah Law for Muslims’.
He provided insights into the divorce process as well as how the court looks after the welfare of the children.
He defined what nafkah, or alimony, is for children – housing, food, clothing, education and medical needs.
He said the issue of giving alimony to a child in a divorce case is based on the child’s needs as well as taking into account the father’s capabilities, despite the weight of alimony resting on the father’s shoulders.
Failure to provide alimony to the child by capable fathers, Mohamad Affendy shared, will lead to the Syariah Court pursuing claims.
The webinar also saw a presentation by legal associate at Messrs Pengiran Izad and Lee Advocates and Solicitors and member of the Law Society of Brunei Darussalam Too Shu Vun, who delivered a talk on ‘Child Custody, Support and Maintenance under Civil Law for Non-Muslims’.
She shared that, the most common issues when marriage breaks down are custody and access of child or children; support and maintenance of spouse and child or children; and assets and property division.
“Any party may apply for divorce in the Brunei High Court by filing a petition. In the event that both parties have agreed on the issues amicably, one party would merely need to file a divorce application and a court order will be recorded in accordance to the agreed terms,” Too said.
She also advised that it is best for both parties to settle their case amicably or use the mediation process to save cost.
She highlighted the welfare of the child as paramount, as opposed to the wishes of the parents.
“The ideal scenario is for the parents to enjoy shared custody of the child with an agreed arrangement on access and overnight stays,” Too shared.
However, she said, a child should not be denied the opportunity to spend time with each parent, especially at a young age.
“Shared custody only stops being ideal when parents no longer stay in the same country, or one parent is found unfit to have custody due to drug or alcohol abuse or a tendency to physical and psychological violence,” she said.