Family & Relationship Law 27 March 2020

Urgent spousal maintenance: am I eligible?

When a marriage or de facto relationship, including a same sex marriage or de facto relationship, ends, one party to the relationship may find themselves without the financial means or support required to meet their ongoing living expenses including paying rent, paying utility bills or buying food. That party may also have difficulty financially supporting their children, particularly if child support is not being paid.

Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by one party to a relationship to the other party, if the other party is able to establish that they are unable to adequately support themselves financially following separation.

Urgent spousal maintenance is spousal maintenance paid to a party who requires immediate financial assistance due to dire financial circumstances, generally when they do not have money available to meet their immediate, basic needs such as food and housing.  An application for urgent spousal maintenance requires the party making the application for urgent spousal maintenance to establish that they are in such desperate need of financial assistance that it would be detrimental to the applicant if the court delayed the hearing the matter to undertake a thorough investigation of the financial circumstances of both the parties.  In short, an application for urgent spousal maintenance will be heard  by a Court so as to minimise financial detriment to the party making the application for urgent spousal maintenance and to enable immediate financial relief to be made available to meet basic needs.

The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court have the power under the Family & Relationship Law Act 1975 (Cth) to make orders for urgent spousal maintenance in circumstances where:

1.         One party has an immediate need of financial assistance;

2.         That party’s need for financial assistance is reasonable; and

3.         The other party has the ability to pay the financial assistance.

Applications for urgent spousal maintenance may be determined without the exchange of financial disclosure. Instead, both parties must file a Financial Statement which includes, in part, information about a party’s:

1.         Income from salary and other sources;

2.         Property owned including real estate, cars and funds in bank accounts; and

3.         Liabilities.

The Financial Statement also includes a breakdown of both parties’ average weekly expenses, including but not limited to costs related to their:

1.         Food;

2.         Utility bills;

3          Telephone and internet expenses;

4          Car expenses including petrol, maintenance and registration;

6.         Medical and pharmaceutical expenses; and

7.         Children’s expenses such as clothing, activities, entertainment and educational fees.

The amount of spousal maintenance ordered to be paid will depend on the other party’s ability to pay urgent spousal maintenance, which will be dependent on the disposable income available to that party.

Reliance on government benefits by the Applicant is a strong indicator of financial need.

Urgent spousal maintenance will usually be paid by way of weekly payments for a short period of time until such time as the parties are able to return to court to enable a more detailed investigation of their financial circumstances is able to be undertaken.

If you require further advice in relation to urgent spousal maintenance or if you are served with an application for urgent spousal maintenance, you need to act promptly. The family law team at Coulter Legal will be able to assist you to make or respond to an application for spousal maintenance including urgent spousal maintenance.

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