What is Spousal Maintenance?

7th December 2021

Did you know that nearly 50,000 Australian couples can get divorced in a single year? While leaving your spouse can make you feel isolated and alone, many others are going through similar pain to yours.

Spousal maintenance is a huge help to many of these newly separated individuals. If you're unsure of whether or not you qualify for financial assistance from your ex, it's important to look into getting the funds to keep you afloat. Read on to learn about spousal maintenance and whether or not you qualify.

What Is Spousal Maintenance?

In many marriages, one partner has a significantly higher income than the other one does. The partner who makes less money might raise children, perform household tasks, or have a lower-earning job. Regardless of the situation, if you're the lower-income partner, you likely relied on the funds that your partner made for your living expenses.

If you cannot meet your financial needs, you may be entitled to financial support from the person you're separating from or divorcing. If you're able to prove financial need and your spouse has the ability to pay, you may be able to get these funds. An attorney can help you to determine whether or not you qualify, so make sure that you talk to one so that you can move forward with all of the facts.

Who Is Entitled to Spousal Maintenance?

Not everyone can get spousal maintenance. These payments are designed for those who need the money to purchase essentials such as rent, groceries, childcare items, or household necessities. If the lower-earning ex-partner has enough funds to survive comfortably, no spousal maintenance fees will be paid since they aren't designed for unnecessary items.

To get spousal maintenance, there will also need to be a large discrepancy in the income of the two parties. A small gap won't suffice. Oftentimes the recipient of alimony will be an unemployed parent or someone with an extremely small income.

What Factors Affect Spousal Maintenance?

Other considerations that courts might think about include:

An infographic that outlines the 16 factors that affect spousal maintenance

Fault is not a consideration of spousal maintenance. Contrary to some people's beliefs, you are no less entitled to spousal maintenance if you were unfaithful or initiated the divorce. This no-fault-based system does not include cases with proven domestic violence involving criminal charges. 

How Long Is Spousal Maintenance Paid For?

Spousal maintenance is unlike child support in that it's very temporary. It's considered a 'rehabilitative' measure by Australian courts and the government. It's highly unlikely that you'll receive payments for longer than two years at the very most.

If you request maintenance, the intention is to temporarily get you through this challenging period in your life. The recipient is expected to use this time to become self-sufficient, find work, and arrange necessary childcare.

However, there are technically no legal limits as to how long spousal maintenance can last. The rules for receiving support are truly on a case-by-case basis. This means that you can try to campaign for a longer period of payments.

This is especially important to remember for parties that have disabilities that make it impossible for them to work. It also is important for those that are raising children with disabilities, especially if the ex-spouse is the other parent. Make sure that you're careful to raise all concerns about your individual situation with your attorney before the case goes to court.

Can Spousal Maintenance Be Backdated?

Many people struggling right now still have yet to begin the proceedings towards obtaining spousal maintenance. If this describes your situation, you likely are wondering if you can receive previous payments you would have gotten if the order were made earlier.

Unfortunately, the Australian Court will usually not backdate spousal maintenance orders. You will only begin to receive payment on the day that the order goes through.

However, there are other ways for some people to receive backdated payments, especially when they have other reasons to get long-term funding. Child support is generally ongoing and lasts until any shared children between the spouses come of age. It is much easier to backdate.

Property settlements also fall into this category. Regardless of when a property settlement is made, all funds will be distributed to the appropriate parties.

Can Spousal Maintenance Be Reduced?

There is no single spousal maintenance calculator in Australia because the payment is so dependent on your specific circumstances. However, spousal maintenance may be reduced over time rather than stopping cold turkey at a certain point. This gives the recipient more time to get back on their feet.

Some spousal maintenance agreements may also cease once the recipient finds a job or another means of support. It's important to iron out the details with your lawyer before filing your case.

Make Your Separation Smoother Today

While both separation and legal divorce are emotionally and financially challenging, talking to a divorce lawyer can help you to overcome painful obstacles. Experts have the knowledge and experience to ensure that you get the money that you need to stay afloat during this painful time.

Now that you know the basics of spousal maintenance in Australia, it's time that you learn more about getting the money that you're due. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your separation finances online or in one of our Queensland offices.

Please note the contents of this post is information only and not legal advice. 
If you require legal advice it is best to contact one of our lawyers who can review your particular circumstances and then provide tailored advice according to your needs.

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