Has child support turned into a lethal weapon?


Has child support turned into a lethal weapon?

What you need to know:

What happens when a woman has children from different fathers and the men are of different financial capabilities? It can be a recipe for chaos, as some are finding out

Zippy Wamaitha* is in a dilemma. She is a single mother of three girls. Her daughters aged 10, seven, and three have separate biological fathers. Her first-born daughter’s father is a successful businessman. He runs a private water drilling company with several truck-mounted well drilling rigs. Her second-born daughter’s father is a married primary school teacher of four children who is set to retire in 2025 while her third-born daughter’s father is a boda boda rider.

Until April 2022, Zippy who is 34 had been struggling to raise her children. Her small shop and vegetable stall is not sufficient enough to give her adequate income to support and educate them. “I make Sh18,000 net per month. This could not feed, educate and provide shelter and clothing for my children,” she says.

She tried to get support from her three baby daddies but only her first-born’s would intermittently help. 

She was advised by her friends to seek help from the children’s court. “He’s a rich man, a multi-millionaire! I knew he was capable of paying and I could redistribute this money amongst the girls to give them a decent life,” she says. She bought into the idea and pleaded with the court to summon her first baby daddy.

“We appeared before the Children’s Court in Nyahururu one year ago. He pleaded for an out-of-court settlement, arguing that he didn’t have a problem in supporting his daughter, and had in fact been sending money intermittently.” Her baby daddy claimed that with a proper out-of-court agreement, he would regularise his parental contributions. “I agreed; I was desperate for help!” Whereas she thought she was lucky, her baby daddy was seething in anger. “He said that I had shamed him. He claimed that I was after his money and swore that he wouldn’t raise another man’s child,” she says.

Since then, what has unravelled is a situation that has left Zippy in distress. “I feel like my family is tattered. I don’t think going for child support was the right decision,” she says, betraying a tinge of regret in her voice. She reveals that her baby daddy has enrolled her firstborn daughter in a prestigious international school and her clothes are shopped from high-end boutiques. The young girl has been enrolled for weekend horse riding, golf, and swimming lessons. She has the latest iPhone and a top-notch laptop, all of which Zippy considers unnecessary. Every morning and evening, she is chauffeured to and from school as her siblings walk to a nearby public school.

“My firstborn’s lifestyle has been elevated to a level that I could only dream of and she loves it. I am saddened at how this elevation has impacted my household,” Zippy narrates. Her two other daughters have become aware of the glaring disparity in their lifestyle and education. 

“They thought he was their father too and came to me wondering why he hated them,” she says. “At their young age, I have had to lie that their daddy is dead because I can’t stomach telling them they have two separate deadbeat fathers.

At the same time, Zippy is afraid that she might end up hating her firstborn. She has begun to see her flashy lifestyle as a weapon that is being used to punish her. “He wanted to marry me as a second wife. I refused and broke off our affair. He wasn’t happy when he later found out that I was pregnant with another man’s child. His fury was aggravated when I took him to the Children’s Court,” she shares.

To restore balance, equality and respect among her children, Zippy is considering asking her baby daddy to stop supporting her daughter. “If he refuses, I am considering sending her to live with him. At least my other two children won’t feel so unwanted and undeserving of a good life,” she says.

Zippy’s current predicament is one that many single moms are facing. Child support has become a lethal weapon that parents are using to get at each other.

According to Nairobi-based psychologist Ken Munyua, instead of working for the benefit of the child, co-parents are approaching the subject of child support from a vindictive standpoint. “The child support court process is in many cases unpleasant and punitive. In some cases, it is not really the well-being of the child that is being sought after but two scorned former lovers who are out to teach each other a lesson; a man who has abdicated his parental duties or not giving enough support and a woman who has gone to court to teach him a lesson,” he says.

According to Munyua, this implies that even where the mother wins and the father complies, the benefits bestowed upon the child will not be coming out of a biological and natural duty to provide but rather as a legal stipulation that has consequences if violated.

“Traditionally, the two parties would sit at a mediation table and get an agreement on what is fair and affordable,” he says.

Emphasis would be made on a friendly home environment. For example, if the father was obligated to provide a total of Sh100,000 for food, clothing and school, an agreement would be made that this money be remitted into an account from which the mother would manage, and subsequently have the opportunity to create a balanced lifestyle in her home. This is unlike the emerging trend where fathers are pulling all stops to ensure the mother accesses no or very little hard cash through micro-management.

“In this case, since the matter has been weaponised, each party will seek to ensure the other toe the line. This is where some men will conclude that since they have been compelled into financial provision, they will segregate and take care of what is rightfully theirs in total disregard of the welfare of any step-siblings their child might have,” says Munyua.

There are also instances where single mothers are petitioning Children’s Courts to compel their baby daddies to take care of the children they father biologically. Take the child support case that was recently filed.

In this case, the woman states that she is a mother of three. Two of her children, who are twins, were fathered by her former lover. Her firstborn is from a previous relationship. In her petition to the court, she demands that her baby daddy must also assume responsibility for her teenage firstborn since he had agreed to do so initially.

In the affidavit filed before the court, the former TV star who was identified as AK said that she was involved in a romantic relationship with her baby daddy who was identified as JG for about five years. At the beginning of their relationship, she had a daughter from another relationship whom JG agreed to take care of by paying her school fees, holiday trips, clothing and toys.

Ms AK laments to the court that her baby daddy is rich and runs various businesses across the sectors of the economy. She says that he is a man of means with a liking for a luxurious lifestyle and a taste for high-quality living and is capable of taking care of the three children. For the firstborn, she has demanded that he pays school fees at Sh632285 per term. She has also demanded that he pays Sh414,028 fees for the other two children, school-related needs to be paid on demand, Sh300,000 for clothing for the children and Sh60,000 for age-appropriate toys per child.

“The costs also include Sh1 million per child, for their birthdays, holiday trips abroad, medical cover and one sports utility car to be on standby for use by the minors on a need basis,” said Ms AK in her affidavit.

In total, Ms AK is seeking monthly child support worth Sh2.7 million. In alternative to the monthly upkeep, she wants JG compelled to deposit a lump sum of Sh413 million to take care of the children for a period of 12 years until they turn 18. “His erratic behaviour and abdication of parental responsibilities have exposed the minors to untold emotional suffering, ridicule and embarrassment. He introduced them to a high standard of life which he must maintain for the children’s well-being,” she defended.   

According to Sheila Sabaya, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya who specialises in family law, child support is usually a question of fact between the biological parents. However, Sheila says that a man who is not the biological father can be tasked with providing child support if he had entered into a relationship, assumed responsibility for the child, and elevated the child’s lifestyle fully aware that the child isn’t biologically his. “The onus is on the mother to prove that it is not in the child’s best interest that the man who assumed responsibility now abandons the duties he accepted knowingly and without coercion,” she says.

However, if the man has taken no responsibilities, the court cannot compel him to take up a parental responsibility that is not his. “For example, if you have three children with three baby daddies, and the father of the first-born is well off, you cannot force him to take up responsibility for the second and third born if he has not been present in their lives and contributed knowingly to their upkeep,” Sheila explains.

Whenever a case of child support goes public, the objective of child benefits is often blurred by claims of extortion.

As the Saturday Magazine has found out, the larger number of men who have been put on child support perceive these types of demands as a form of extortion. Many fear that child support has been turned into a weapon. “There’s no way a four-year-old child can spend over half a million shillings in a month,” says Maurice Kagema who has been sued by his baby mama. He claims that she is demanding child upkeep worth Sh600,000 per month.

To fight back, men whose baby mamas have other children are using their child support as a weapon to elevate their biological children above the others subsequently driving the wedge between the siblings and the mother while elevating their fatherly position.

Sebastian Ogunda is one of these. He has a baby mama who also has two other children from two other failed relationships. Ogunda says that he would have opted for an out-of-court settlement but his baby mama got greedy and went after his pay slip in 2017. “She sued demanding for Sh50,000 monthly child support deduction from my payslip. I protested that it was unreasonable since I was earning Sh97,000 net and was servicing loans and had siblings in school who relied on me,” he says.

Ogunda says that his baby mama could hear none of it. “She rudely told me that I should have remembered I had loans and siblings to educate when I decided to have a son; that my concerns were none of her business,” he says. She got her way in court. Two years later, Ogunda resigned from his job and went into private consultancy.

In mid-2019, he appealed seeking a fair and equal contribution, including shared custody. Over the past three years, his financial position has improved. “I do consultancy work and have also gone into government and county procurement,” he says. With his improved finances, Ogunda says that he has chosen to weaponise his input to teach his baby mama a lesson.

“The world is a jungle and tit for tat is fair game. She did me some dirt and now it’s my time to show her she ain’t squat!” he declares. Apparently, his baby mama’s life has taken a downturn. However, Ogunda has ensured that his son continues to enjoy a soft life. He goes to a premium private academy as opposed to the other two children who have been enrolled in a public primary school. Every weekend, the boy is treated to an extravagant lifestyle the other two children can only dream of. Asked if he is cognisant of the dysfunction he has created in the family, Ogunda says that the two other children are none of his concern. “I don’t care if people say I’m selfish. When I pleaded that I had loans and siblings to take care of, she bluntly said those were none of her business. The same principle applies,” he says.

It gets trickier if the woman gets married and later on gets more children with her husband, but still pursues child support. Take Catherine Chebet case. She is a mother of two boys aged eight and four and has been married for the past six years. By the time she got married in mid-2016, Catherine had been getting Sh5,000 in child support from her former lover who is in the civil service. "He knew that I wasn't married so he had no problem paying and I got the money every 30th day of the month," says Catherine who is 33. 

This money was not being deducted from his payslip. Instead, Catherine and her former lover had mutually agreed before the Children's Court that he would willingly remit the money to her. Occasionally, he would pop in to visit his son. Catherine did not tell him that she had gotten married and had a son. "I kept it a secret and would strictly warn my son not to mention it whenever he came around," she says. 

About three years ago, Catherine says that her former lover discovered that she had gotten married and had a baby. "He stopped sending the money the moment he discovered that I was married. He wasn't pleased at all," she says. After five months of non-payment, she reported him to the court and requested that the money be deducted directly from his salary. "The court summoned him but he never showed. In the end, the court issued the orders I was seeking and adjusted the money upwards to Sh8,000," she says. Six months later, the deductions started to reflect in the child's account.   

"He never called to mention that his payslip was getting child upkeep deductions. He never visits his son now, and he never calls to find out how he is doing like before," she says. Catherine admits that her current husband doesn't know about the case and has assumed parental responsibility for the two children. 

Eric Musyimi sees no problem with this and he pays child support despite his baby mama having married and got another child. “Her marriage means that my child will access some benefits from her stepdad, the same way her kids will access some of the money I send as child support for my daughter. I have no problem with this,” says the 35-year-old clinical officer.

However, he says the problem would arise if his baby mama claimed he was a deadbeat and that everything the child gets is the hard work of her stepdad. “I have learned that if you don’t make it known to the child that you’re their father and are contributing, you will be labelled as a deadbeat despite sending child support every month,” says Musyimi. Eric says he discloses to his daughter the support he is according her. 

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Quick Stats:

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS):

  • The number of registered births by single mothers in Kenya increased in the period between 2018 and 2022.
  • The proportion of registered births by single mothers increased to 13.9 per cent in 2022.
  • The proportion of registered births by married women decreased to 85.6 per cent in 2022

According to the 2019 national Census:

  • Families headed by single parents rose from 25.1 per cent in 2009 to 38.2 per cent in 2019  

According to data from the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA):

  • 2022 saw an increase in incidents of child neglect.
  • Cases of child custody and maintenance between 1st October 2022 to 31st October 2022 increased to 106, while spousal maintenance in the same period was 23 cases.

According to a 2012 pan- African study by two Canadian sociologists:

  • Kenya has one of the highest numbers of children born out of wedlock in Africa.
  • A Kenyan woman has a 59.5 per cent chance of being a single mother by the age of 45 either through pre-marital birth or dissolution of a union.
  • About 30 per cent of women in Kenya are giving birth before they are married.