Spousal maintenance is the payment of money from one party to a marriage or de facto relationship to the other to help financially support them when they are unable to adequately support themselves. This type of pay is different to a property settlement or child support.
After parties separate, they each have an ongoing responsibility to financially assist or ‘maintain’ their former partner if that partner cannot meet their own reasonable expenses from their income.
The Court will order the payment of spousal maintenance where:
Spousal maintenance can be on an interim (short term) basis or on a final basis in special circumstances. Spousal maintenance is generally ordered on an interim basis until a final property settlement is reached.
If a party makes an application to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) for spousal maintenance, they need to show that they have they have a need for maintenance because their own reasonable expenses are greater than their income because:
Importantly, government benefits such as a single parent payment or Family Tax Benefits are not taken into account for the purposes of assessing a party’s income.
The Court considers if a party has any excess income, after meeting their own reasonable expenses, to contribute to the other party.
If the Court makes an order for the payment of spousal maintenance, it can be in the following ways:
If you are entitled to receive spousal maintenance, you can negotiate to receive spousal maintenance with your former partner or spouse (usually with the assistance of a lawyer) or you can make an application to the Court.
It is recommended to formalise any agreement reached to pay or receive spousal maintenance by Consent Orders or a Financial Agreement.
There are time limits to seek spousal maintenance. If you are married or divorced, it is one (1) year from the date of your Divorce Order. For de facto couples, it is two (2) years from the date of your separation.
An order for spousal maintenance can be varied or end in the following circumstances:
You can also “contract out” of the obligation to pay spousal maintenance if the other party agrees. You can document this in a legally enforceable way through a Financial Agreement.
Our Family and Relationship Law team at Coulter Legal can provide you with advice regarding spousal maintenance, including the best way to make or avoid a spousal maintenance claim.