What is Spousal Maintenance?

In Australian family law, spousal maintenance (also commonly referred to as spousal support or alimony) refers to the financial assistance provided by one spouse to the other following the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship. Spousal maintenance is governed by the Family Law Act 1975, which applies to married couples, as well as the Family Law Act 2009, which covers de facto relationships. The law recognises that one spouse may have an obligation to provide financial support to the other spouse.  

To be eligible for spousal maintenance, the party seeking support must establish that they cannot meet their reasonable expenses from their own income or assets and that their former spouse has the capacity to provide financial assistance. It is important to note that spousal maintenance is not automatically granted in every case and is determined based on individual circumstances.

The court takes various factors into consideration when deciding on spousal maintenance, including:

  • Financial needs and resources of each party: This includes income, property, and financial obligations of both spouses.
  • Age and health: The court considers the age and health of each spouse and how it may impact their ability to earn a living or become self-sufficient.
  • Income-earning capacity: The court assesses the ability of the spouse seeking maintenance to earn an income, taking into account factors such as education, skills, work experience, and the care of children.
  • Standard of living: The court considers the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the relationship and aims to maintain a similar standard, if possible.
  • Childcare responsibilities: If one spouse has primary care responsibilities for children of the relationship, it may impact their ability to work and earn an income.

Spousal maintenance can be agreed upon by the parties involved, either through informal negotiations or a formalised agreement, such as a binding financial agreement or consent orders. If an agreement cannot be reached, either party can apply to the court for a spousal maintenance order. The court will consider the circumstances of the case and make a decision based on what is fair and reasonable in the specific situation.

It is worth noting that spousal maintenance orders can be temporary or ongoing, paid in instalments or a lump-sum, depending on the circumstances. The court has the power to vary or terminate the order if there are changes in the financial circumstances of either party.

Spousal maintenance may be payable when one party has a high income or has use and control of assets of value, and the other party is dependent upon them for support. Spousal  maintenance may be payable until final settlement, or payable for a period of time to allow the other party to obtain skills to obtain employment. In some rare instances spousal maintenance can be paid on a long term basis, for instance when a party has a disability.

It’s important to consult with a family lawyer or seek legal advice if you have specific questions or concerns regarding spousal maintenance, as the information provided here is a general overview and may not cover all individual circumstances or recent legal developments.

If you have any questions regarding any aspect of family law, please contact our friendly family law team today on (02) 4929 4499 or book online. Headed by our Senior Lawyer Kasey Stewart, an Accredited Specialist in Family Law, you can trust our family law team to help you achieve the best results possible, for you and your children.

Kasey Stewart
Kasey Stewart

9 Jun, 2023

The information in this article is intended to provide general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice specific to your particular circumstances, you must formally engage a lawyer or law firm. The law is subject to change, and whilst we strive to keep our content up-to-date, developments may occur after publication. The information contained on our website should not be relied upon or used as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant law. Mason Lawyers takes no responsibility for any use of the information provided. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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