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What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is a form of financial support.

It’s sometimes known as spousal support. In marriage, it’s paid by one spouse to another when the second spouse can’t fully support themselves.

It can also apply to de facto relationships, but there are special requirements. You must have lived together for at least two years, or have a child (or children) together. Payments can be regular and ongoing, or paid annually as a lump sum.

When should I seek legal advice?

The general rule-of-thumb is the sooner you get legal advice, the better.

Often, it’s the best way of getting a good picture of your property and financial obligations.

However, if it’s some time after separation before you can seek our help, that’s okay. We’ll work with you to secure maintenance payments that meet your needs.

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We’re experts in spousal maintenance

  • Honest, no-nonsense advice
  • Significant experience in complex claims
  • Outstanding results

At your first consultation, we can:

  • Find out more about your situation
  • Make an assessment based on the information that you’ve provided
  • Work out what other information we need to collect
  • Provide you with a written estimate of our fees

How is spousal maintenance calculated?

The Court will consider many things, including the needs of the person with the lower income and the other party’s ability to pay.

The Court will also consider whether the marriage affected either party’s ability to earn an income, for example, if you took extended time off work to care for your children. It will look at the circumstances of your children and any childcare responsibilities (including adult children with disabilities).

Gavel on a desk

Other factors include:

Age and health

Income, property and financial resources

Ability to work

Standard of living

You and your former partner can include spousal support in your binding financial agreement.

You may choose to agree between yourselves without asking the Family Court to make orders, but it’s a good idea to get legal advice before settling on any maintenance payments to safeguard your present and future needs.

If you and your former partner can’t agree, you can apply to the Family Court to make orders, including how much is to be paid, by whom and at what intervals.

Need advice? Just ask us a question

How much should I expect to pay in legal fees?

The more easily you and your former partner can agree, the quicker the resolution.

It’s an effective way to keep legal costs to a minimum. Legal costs will increase in various circumstances, including:

  • Difficulty in locating all assets
  • Where either party’s income earning arrangements are complicated; for example, they’re paid through a business or trust, or there has been income splitting
  • Superannuation splitting arrangements are needed

Are there any time limits in which to apply?

You must make a maintenance application within 12 months of the Family Court issuing final divorce papers (known as a decree absolute) or within two years of a de facto relationship ending.

You can apply for maintenance as soon as you’ve separated from your partner.  If your application won’t meet these time requirements, it’s still worth talking to us about your situation.

We may be able to get the Family Court to allow you an extension of time in which to apply.

Frequently asked questions

It doesn’t matter whether the person making the payments is male or female.

Spousal maintenance is designed to help with necessary living expenses. It’s for people who don’t or can’t meet these expenses without help from their former partner.

It will only be awarded to one party if the other party can afford to pay it, considering their child support obligations as well as any property settlement agreement.

If you and your former partner can’t agree on the date of separation, you’ll need proof. There may be documents that will assist with this, for example, utility accounts and bank accounts being changed to separate names, signing a lease for rental accommodation, or any witnesses to you or your partner moving out of the home.

A spousal maintenance order can be changed if there is a change in your financial circumstances. Speak to us as soon as possible if you experience a significant life change; for example, you lose your job and are struggling to find new work, or if you’re diagnosed with a serious illness.

The Court may reassess maintenance payments if either party remarries or establishes a de facto relationship with another partner. Often, this means that spousal maintenance payments will cease. In some rare circumstances, if your financial situation becomes worse when you re-partner or re-marry, the Court may order a continuation of spousal maintenance.

A Family Court spousal maintenance order will usually cease payments in one of the following circumstances:

  • When there’s an event (for example, the person receiving payments gets a regular income)
  • By a certain date
  • At the end of hearings in the Family Court for property settlement, financial agreement, child support or another issue
  • When one party dies
  • When one party remarries or starts a new de facto relationship

If you’re concerned about your payments coming to an end, or any aspect of your obligations to pay spousal maintenance, contact us for advice.

What’s next?

Whether you need spousal maintenance, or you’re obliged to pay it, you’ll need great legal advice

Get in touch and we’ll help you get things sorted.

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