Spousal maintenance is ongoing financial support provided by one party to the other after the relationship has ended. It applies to marriages, civil unions, and de facto relationships, and is separate from any child support payments.

In one recent case, the wife sought $2,000 per week from her husband to meet her reasonable needs. This was because during the 16-year marriage the husband was the sole income earner while the wife was a stay-at-home mother.  The wife was aged 43, and after such a long period away from the workforce she would not be able to step back into work without retraining.

Three years after the end of the relationship, the wife was still reliant on WINZ support totaling about $36,660 per year. The wife accrued debt which she was unable to pay. She was covered by medical insurance during the marriage but when she required major surgery post-separation, she discovered the husband had removed her from the policy and she was required to pay the medical costs out of her own pocket.

The husband continued to enjoy the same high standard of living as he did during the relationship.  In addition to the husband’s income of $154,780 per year, he was also getting support from his family trust, by living rent-free and receiving $3,000 allowance per week.

The Court ordered the husband to pay the wife $1,500 per week to cover identified expenses. The Court held it was not reasonable to expect the wife to forfeit the lifestyle she was used to and exist on $36,660 per year.

After separation, one party may be required to provide financial support to the other party in order to help them meet their reasonable needs where they cannot do so. Reasonable needs extend to more than the basic necessities like food and shelter.  Instead it refers to the ability to maintain the lifestyle that the parties were used to during the relationship, including payments towards accommodation, household expenditure, entertainment costs, and so on.

The Court must consider that maintenance is necessary to meet the reasonable needs of the party where they cannot practicably meet all or any part of those needs. The Court will consider the ability of the parties to be self-supporting taking into account the effects of the division of functions during the marriage and the likely earning capacity of each party post-separation.

When considering what level of support is appropriate the Court will consider the following:

  • The income of each spouse and their potential earning capacity;
  • The reasonable needs of each party;
  • The fact that a party is supporting any other person (for instance children);
  • The financial responsibilities of each party; and
  • Any circumstances that make one party liable to maintain the other.

Maintenance is not intended to be a lifelong obligation. It will continue for a reasonable amount of time.  What is considered a reasonable period of time will depend on the circumstances of each situation.  There is no set formula for determining the how long maintenance payments will last. 

After this reasonable period of time, the parties must be responsible for meeting their own needs. In any event, maintenance payments will stop if the supported party enters into a new marriage, civil union or de facto relationship.

It is important to apply for spousal maintenance as soon as possible after the breakdown of a relationship. If one party who would be eligible for spousal maintenance continues without support for a long enough period of time, the Court will decline the application for maintenance because they have shown that they can exist without the need for support from the other party.