Spousal maintenance is financial assistance paid by one party to another in a marriage or de facto relationship in circumstances where one party has the capacity to pay and the other spouse is unable to support themselves adequately. 

Each party to a relationship has an obligation to support the other financially to the extent that they are able, where the other party is unable to adequately support themselves. It is common in relationships that each party assumes a role for the overall benefit of the family. Typically, one party may attend to home duties and assume the role of the primary caregiver. This enables the other party to assume the role of the primary breadwinner of the family. Whilst these contributions are viewed as equal in the eyes of the law, it can lead to serious financial inequity and financial need upon separation. Spousal maintenance can help bridge this gap during and after separation. 

For parties to a marriage, the payments are classed as spousal maintenance. For de facto relationships, it is referred to as de factor partner maintenance. The extent of the financial support depends on what the other party can afford to pay. 

An application for spousal maintenance can be made independently or at the same time as an application for property orders. The Court will consider the needs of the applicant and the respondent’s capacity to pay. The court will consider:

  • Your age and health (whether there is any physical or mental incapacity); 
  • Your income, property and financial assets; 
  • Your ability to work; 
  • What is a suitable standard of living; 
  • If the marriage has affected your ability to earn an income; 
  • If there are children of the relationship, with whom the children live. 

Spousal maintenance payments are typically in the form of periodic payments over a defined period of time. In recognition of the ‘clean break’ principle in family law, spousal maintenance payments are not long-term in nature and usually cease upon a specified date or event occurring such as a parties’ remarriage of forming a de facto relationship, upon obtaining employment or completing study.

The payments can take a variety forms, including:

  • Periodic or a lump sum payments;
  • Making mortgage payments for the home in which a party lives; 
  • Paying various expenses of that party; and
  • An urgent applications to the court if you are in urgent need of financial assistance and require immediate payment pending final determination of your application. 

If you were married, applications for spouse maintenance must be made within 12 months of your divorce becoming final. If you were in a de facto relationship, your application for de facto partner maintenance must be made within 2 years of the breakdown of your de facto relationship.