The ins and outs of spousal maintenance

Image featuring a husband and wife on a verge of divorce, to accompany article "The ins and outs of spousal maintenance"

Are you obliged to support your ex after divorce? In some cases, yes.

In the US this is called “alimony” and it’s a word you’ve probably heard in relation to numerous celebrity bust ups. In Australia, it’s called “spousal maintenance” and it’s something you may have to pay if your former partner can’t support themselves financially.

It’s important to note spousal maintenance is separate from child support. If you have children with your former spouse, child support arrangements must be in place.

Who can claim spousal maintenance?

Anyone who is unable to financially support themselves after a divorce or separation can claim spousal maintenance – it applies equally to husbands, wives, and those who were in same sex marriages and relationships.

The court will take several issues into consideration when deciding on spousal maintenance, including:

  • The age and health of both people and their ability to work and earn a living.
  • Income, property, and other financial resources such as superannuation.
  • An appropriate standard of living, not a bare bones existence.
  • Whether the relationship has affected your ability to earn an income – for example, if one person stayed home to care for children and has been out of the workforce for some time.

The court will also consider if the person being asked to pay spousal maintenance has the means to make those payments.

How long does spousal maintenance last?

It depends on your individual circumstances. But it’s important to remember that child support and spousal maintenance can run for different lengths of time. It can be helpful to know that:

  • Spousal maintenance can be an agreement between you and your ex, without any court involvement.
  • Urgent spousal maintenance orders can be sought if one partner is in a dire financial situation after separation.
  • Interim spousal maintenance arrangements can be put in place by agreement or court order, while the property settlement is finalized.
  • Spousal maintenance could include periodic payments, a lump sum as part of a property settlement, and could also define an end date that maintenance payments will stop.
  • Maintenance can be provided in non-cash ways, such as by paying rent and other bills directly.
  • Spousal maintenance can be varied later if there is a change in one person’s circumstances.

What’s next?

Time limits apply for spousal maintenance. For married couples, an application for spousal maintenance must be made within 12 months of the date your divorce is finalised by the court. And for defacto couples, the clock starts ticking immediately, and you must apply for spousal maintenance within two years of the date of separation.

It’s vital that you receive legal advice that is tailored to your unique situation. Contact Bickell & Mackenzie on: (07) 3221 4300 or email: info@bimalaw.com.au to make an appointment with one of our family law experts. 

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