Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the court has the power to make an order that one spouse (married or de facto) maintain the other after separation. The court will make a spouse maintenance order if one party has a need for financial support and the other party has a capacity to support them.

Many people do not realise that, following the breakdown of a relationship, they may be required to pay or entitled to receive ongoing spousal support from their former spouse. Spousal maintenance relates to a party’s day to day living costs and not the living costs of any children of the marriage – which is reflected in child support payments determined by the Child Support Agency. Advice on child support can be found here.

Spousal maintenance is different from property settlement, which is the division of the assets, liabilities and financial resources upon the separation of the parties as opposed to ongoing financial assistance to fund one party’s day to day living costs. In some cases, one party controls most or all of the family finances during the marriage and then after separation. Spousal maintenance may or may not be limited to the period before a property settlement has been agreed or determined by the court. If orders are made for spousal maintenance following a property settlement, then it is usually limited to between 12 to 24 months, or whatever period that will allow that party to re-train themselves and become financially self-sufficient.

It is important to be mindful of dates – a spousal maintenance application must be made less than 12 months from the date of divorce in the case of married couples and not more than 24 months from the date of separation in the case of de facto parties.