What is spousal maintenance?

When a marriage or de facto relationship ends, often one party finds that they are not able to independently meet their day to day financial needs and living expenses. In such cases, the person in need may wish to apply for what is known as Spousal Maintenance.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

The Family Law Act 1975, states that “a person has a responsibility to financially assist their spouse or former de facto partner, if that person cannot meet their own reasonable expenses from their personal income or assets.” This means, that if at the end of a relationship one former partner is unable to support themselves, they may seek financial support from their former partner. This applies equally to couples who were legally married or in a de facto relationship.

Am I eligible for Spousal Maintenance?

In order to determine whether you are eligible to spousal maintenance, the following points will be considered:

  • Whether you are reasonable able to support yourself.
  • The ability of your former partner to pay for your support.

Spousal maintenance is most commonly awarded where there is a significant disparity between the earnings of former partners.  Other considerations may include:

  • Whether you have been out of the workforce for a long period of time with limited employment prospects.
  • Whether you are unable to work due to care responsibilities or illness.
  • Whether your relationship has limited your ability to work or earn an income.
  • The number, age and living arrangements of children.

Note, if you are able to earn an income, but choose not to work, this will impact your ability to be awarded Spousal Maintenance.

It should be noted that Spousal Maintenance is different to Child Support.  Child support is paid to help meeting the living expenses of children of a relationship. Spousal maintenance is paid to support the needs of a former spouse and may be paid, or ordered by the Family Court, in addition to addition to child support.

What time frames apply to Spousal Maintenance?

Applications for Spousal Maintenance must be made within 12 months of divorce, or in the case of a de facto relationship, within two years of the end of the relationship.  Exceptions to these time frames may be granted by the Court.

Usually, Spousal Maintenance is awarded for a period of time long enough for the person receiving support to find meaningful employment or undertake training that will allow them to support themselves. In the case of illness or ongoing care of others, it may be awarded for a longer period.

In most instances, Spousal Maintenance will no longer be payable if the payee enters a new de facto relationship or marries, however, the Court may consider the individual circumstances, financial needs and earning capacity of each party.

Types of Spousal Maintenance

There are three types of Spousal Maintenance.

  • Lump Sum where a one off payment is made to cover a set period of time.
  • Ongoing payments, where a regular amount is paid for a set period of time.
  • Urgent payments made where there is an immediate need for financial support following the end of a relationship. These are for a short period only to cover immediate living expenses and are usually superseded by an ongoing or Lump Sum arrangement.

Do I need to go to court to secure Spousal Maintenance?

Just as with property settlement and child care arrangements, Spousal Maintenance, can be agreed informally. If you and your former partner agree on spousal maintenance arrangements, there is no need for you to go to Court. A legally binding financial agreement can be prepared that outlines the nature of the agreement you have reached.  Please see our earlier blog post that outlines the process and considerations when preparing a binding financial agreement.

 

At Umbrella Family Law, we understand that securing your financial future is an important consideration when ending a relationship. Contact us for empathetic, informed advice to help you navigate the separation and divorce process.