Spousal maintenance

When a marriage or relationship breaks down, one spouse may be entitled to “spousal maintenance”. This is separate from child support.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court can order spousal maintenance payments if:

(a) one spouse can’t meet their reasonable living expenses for their own resources; and

(b) the other spouse can afford to assist with paying for those expenses after meeting their own reasonable living expenses. What is “reasonable” will vary from relationship to relationship and that question will be considered with reference to the lifestyle the parties led while they were together.

The Court does not consider Centrelink payments or voluntary assistance from family members as income when assessing whether one party can pay for his or her reasonable living expenses. When assessing the other spouse’s capacity to pay, the Court considers their earning capacity not their actual income. This prevents the higher income spouse from reducing their income to avoid spousal maintenance orders.

Spousal maintenance can be paid periodically or as a lump sum. Most spousal maintenance orders operate for a limited period while one spouse is getting back on their feet. However, the Court can make longer term spousal maintenance orders in an appropriate case.
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