What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is the provision of financial support from one partner to the other when a relationship ends. Spousal maintenance assists the other partner in meeting their reasonable needs where they are unable to do so due to certain circumstances.CriteriaOne or more of these circumstances must be present for spousal maintenance to be awarded:

  • The partner’s ability to become self-supporting having regard to the effects of the division of functions within the relationship (e.g. primary earner vs. stay at home mum), the likely earning capacity of each partner and any other relevant circumstances;
  • The responsibilities of each partner for the ongoing daily care of any minor or dependent children of the relationship;
  • The standard of living of the partners while they lived together;
  • Any physical or mental disability;
  • Any inability to obtain work that is reasonable in the circumstances and is adequate to provide for that party; and
  • Any undertaking of education or training designed to increase one party’s earning capacity or reduce or eliminate the need for maintenance

Determining the amount of maintenanceThe court takes a number of factors into account:

  • The reasonable needs of each partner – this is assessed by looking at the individual circumstances of each partner;
  • The potential earning capacity of each partner;
  • The financial responsibilities of each partner;
  • Assets from any relationship property division;
  • Whether a partner is supporting another person; and
  • Any other circumstances that make one partner liable to maintain the other.

How maintenance is paid? Payments are made either as periodic payments or as a lump sum (single payment or in instalments). But in general, the court prefers periodic payments.Length of payments Spousal maintenance is temporary, to enable one party to get back on their feet. It is expected that after a reasonable amount of time both parties will be responsible for meeting their own needs. Generally, a payment of 6-18 months is common. However, this will be at the lesser end if the relationship property is settled.Interim spousal maintenanceThe court can order interim maintenance for up to six months until an application for maintenance can be determined. The court has wide discretion to award interim maintenance; the test is what the Judge thinks is reasonable. Payment can only be made by periodic payments and not a lump sum.

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