The Family Court was recently asked to confirm the appropriate amount of spousal maintenance to be paid from a husband to a wife following separation. 

The parties agreed that the separated father had a continuing obligation to provide spousal maintenance to the mother of his children following separation.  This was in addition to paying child support. However, they could not agree on how much should be paid.  The Court was therefore asked to assess the appropriate weekly payment.

The father had moved out of the family home in 2013, and the house was then sold.  Subsequently, the mother moved into a similar rental property with the couple’s three children.  While the husband continued to work for a high salary, the wife engaged in part-time employment, noting that child-care commitments meant that was all she could commit to.

The Court confirmed that whichever way they cut it, both had reduced standards of living due to the need to establish two separate households.  However, its task was not to “balance the books for the parents” or to criticise discretionary spending.  Its task was to consider the mother’s reasonable needs and to preserve her position how it saw just.

After considering both the mother’s and father’s budgets, the Court commented that the mother’s evidence particularly emphasised spending on her health needs and the needs of the children.  In contrast, there were concerns with line items in the father’s budget.  He was criticised for including expenses that he was not currently facing, and for listing a large superannuation payment as an “obligation” rather than a voluntary contribution.

The father had proposed reductions to the mother’s weekly budget, suggesting she ought to limit her expenses, should not claim legal fees, and that she could take on an additional shift of work. 

In response, the Court clarified that it accepted the need for realism, but was not prepared to impose an obligation on a parent to work when a parent has reasonably decided that, given child care responsibilities, she is working to her full capacity.  The Court also accepted that legal fees were a necessity during a separation, comparable to the purchase of new furniture upon leaving a household.

The mother was granted an interim maintenance order of $1,200 per week.  This contrasted to the father’s $300 a week offer.

The case illustrates the Court’s standard approach to requests for maintenance following separation.  It also demonstrates how important each partner’s budget becomes to the Court’s ultimate assessment.


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