Financial Agreements

Understanding Spousal Maintenance

fixed fee family law TGBWhen the topic of divorce or separation pops up, a term you might come across is spousal maintenance. This term might seem overly legal and technical, but at its core it’s about fairness and support. Let’s unravel this concept together, so it’s easy for everyone to understand.

What Is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is financial support that one spouse might need to provide to the other after a separation or divorce. This concept is embedded in the Family Law Act (FLA), and outlines the conditions under which one party may be required to support the other.

It boils down to two main questions:

  1. Is the payer capable of providing support? This means looking at whether they have the financial means to help without putting themselves in hardship.
  2. Does the recipient genuinely need the support? This assesses whether the recipient can maintain a reasonable standard of living on their own, taking into account various factors like age, health, and the need to care for children.

Imagine this scenario: Alex and Rachel, once a married couple, decide to part ways. During their marriage, Alex was the primary earner, while Rachel took a step back from her career. Post-separation, Rachel might struggle financially, especially if she is taking care of a child under 18, or if she is unable to find gainful employment due to age or health reasons. This is where an application for spousal maintenance may become relevant. However, Alex’s ability to pay Rachel the maintenance she is seeking is an important consideration. If Alex has an income which provides him with surplus funds (after he has paid his own living expenses) then Rachel’s request for spousal maintenance could be valid.

De Facto Relationships

For couples not married but in de facto relationships, similar rules apply. Since March 2009 (with some variations based on location), de facto couples have been able to seek maintenance under the same FLA provisions, provided certain conditions are met, such as the relationship lasting at least two years.

How Does the Court Decide?

The Court has a broad power to decide what’s fair in terms of maintenance. It considers several factors, including the needs of each person, their earning capacity, and other relevant circumstances. There’s also a procedure for urgent maintenance, for those in immediate financial need.

The Process and Time Limits

There are specific steps and legal procedures to follow when applying for spousal maintenance, including urgent, interim, and final orders. Importantly, there are time limits for making these applications— with the application needing to be made within 12 months after a divorce for married couples and within 2 years after the end of a de facto relationship.

Key Takeaways

  1. Fairness and Support: Spousal maintenance is about ensuring that no one is left in a financial lurch after a separation or divorce.
  2. Case-by-Case: The Court looks at each case individually, considering all relevant factors to decide on the necessity and amount of maintenance.
  3. Not Automatic: Just because you apply doesn’t mean you’ll receive maintenance. There’s a thorough assessment process.
  4. Legal Guidance Is Key: Navigating the specifics can be complex, and professional advice is usually necessary to understand the nuances of your situation.

Understanding spousal maintenance doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s a concept designed to uphold fairness when couples go their separate ways, ensuring both parties can move forward without undue financial hardship.

Get in touch

Whether you’re directly involved or just seeking to broaden your knowledge, I hope this explanation sheds light on a topic that plays a crucial role in the lives of many navigating the end of a relationship. Remember, when in doubt, reaching out for professional advice is always a wise step. Get in touch with me or any of my team if you have any questions on this or any other family law topic.