What is Spousal Maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is a legal obligation of a person to provide financial support to his or her spouse usually following the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage or de facto relationship. Spousal maintenance between parties in a de facto relationship is dealt with under Section 90SE of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and for married persons under Section 74 of the Act.
Spousal maintenance is the financial support paid by one spouse to the other spouse where they are unable to support him or herself to an adequate standard, and that the other party has capacity to provide that financial support to that party. It is maintenance for the support costs of the spouse and not for the children of the relationship. Support to the children of the relationship is paid via child-support and dealt with largely by the Department of Human Services (under the umbrella of the Child Support Agency). Sometimes it is difficult to separate expenses such as rent, electricity and groceries between the spouse and the children living in the same household. This needs to be specifically addressed in your evidence before the Court.
How Is It Paid?
Spousal maintenance may be required to be paid to one party as a periodic payment, e.g. each week, fortnight or month or may be required to be paid in a lump sum by a certain period.
It is usual for the maintenance to be paid directly into the receiving party’s bank account.
How Long Is Spousal Maintenance For?
Spousal maintenance may be required to be paid on an interim basis (until matters are resolved on a final basis) or on a final basis for a specific period of time. This may provide parties with an opportunity to retrain, obtain further qualifications, until children go to school or to allow for a period of time to elapse.
In the event a Court orders spousal maintenance to be paid, the sums of maintenance paid to that person are not considered in any overall final property settlement whether paid as a periodic sum or a lump sum. In circumstances where a lump sum payment is made and characterised as spousal maintenance, it should be used for ongoing self-support expenses of that spouse.
Spousal maintenance payments are intended to meet a party’s reasonable and necessary living expenses for their ongoing self-support, in particular during proceedings.
There are implications for having an order for spousal maintenance which may permit a party to return to Court in the future to vary that Order, even many years later.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Taking the next step and contacting a family lawyer can be scary. Our lawyers will make you feel comfortable so you can talk about your situation. But first, ask yourself, Do I really need a lawyer?