Michelle Saffer is a newspaper reporter and a single mother. She divorced her husband in 1999. In terms of their court order, the father paid her a monthly lumpsum maintenance for their daughter, out of which she had to pay all her daughter’s costs, including school fees.
Michelle applied to her daughter’s school for partial exemption from having to pay the school fees, as she could not afford the full fees on her income. The school refused to consider her application, because she did not give her ex-husband’s gross annual income. He absolutely refused to provide it and the school refused her application.
She felt that the school and its governing body had subjected her to repeated violations of her constitutional and statutory rights and she took her case all the way to the Appeal Court where she won.
Her case changed the law for single parents who struggle. The Appeal Court decided that, if a single parent’s income qualifies her for an exemption and if the other parent refuses to give details of his income, a governing body must take only her income into consideration when they determine whether she qualifies for an exemption.
The governing body will have the right to sue the other parent for the balance of the school fees.
This is a win-win situation and good news for struggling single parents.
Supreme court of appeal case no 1209/2016
Head of dept WC Educational Dept
Member of executive council for education in WC Prov Government
Minister of Basic Education
Women’s legal centre
Head of Dept WC Educational Dept & another v S (Women’s Legal Centre as Amicus Curiae) (1209/2016)
Interpretation and application of S 40(1) of the SA Schools Act 84 of 1996 – subsection provides for joint and several liability – fee-exemption applications can, however, be processed ito the Act and Regulations to enable single parents separated from their partners or divorced from a spouse to have their applications assessed irt their own personal circumstances and not on combined income.