Preparing for Divorce: A Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Spousal Maintenance in Australia

After their relationship ends, some spouses or partners may grapple with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially in circumstances where one party has minimal or no income. Therefore, spousal maintenance is vital for the continued support of a partner after separation. In Australia, the Family Law Act, 1975 stipulates that legally married couples or de facto spouses may claim spousal maintenance after separation.

Spousal maintenance refers to an agreement between former spouses where one partner offers continued financial support to the other after separation. This article examines some critical issues in spousal maintenance. 

Were You Married or in a De facto Relationship?

Married couples and partners in a de facto relationship can claim maintenance. Remember that the grounds for claiming maintenance are the same for married couples or those in a de facto relationship. Therefore, a de facto partner or a spouse who requires financial assistance from their spouse/partner can apply to a family court. 

Consideration for Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance is only payable in specific circumstances. The party applying for spousal maintenance should establish that they cannot support themselves adequately. Similarly, the partner or spouse lodging a spousal maintenance application must establish that the other party is reasonably able to support them. Therefore, a court will consider certain factors when deciding whether or not to grant spousal maintenance orders.

Some of the factors include income, financial resources, each party's property, capacity for gainful employment, age and health status of both parties, and who will care for children below 18 years. A court may also consider payable child support, terms of property settlement, duration and impact of relationship or marriage, nature of cohabitation with a third party, and income contribution for the other party. Remember that a court has a broad discretion on facts to consider before deciding. 

Types of Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance can take different shapes and forms. The financial support can be made periodically -- weekly or monthly. Alternatively, spousal maintenance may be made as a lump sum payment to a partner or spouse. Also, payment of a particular one-off expense, such as offsetting an ex-partner's loan, might be considered spousal maintenance. Other spousal maintenance types include using an asset, such as living in a family home pending property settlement or using an ex-partner's vehicle. Similarly, payment of ongoing expenses accrued by another partner may be regarded as spousal maintenance.

Seek Legal Advice

When applying for spousal maintenance, you should seek legal advice from a qualified family lawyer. Since a court considers many factors before deciding on the amount for spousal support, you need a qualified professional to present adequate facts to persuade a court to accept your spousal maintenance claim.