Are you wondering does a husband have to support his wife during separation? It’s a common question when a relationship ends. And, if you’ve known friends or family who have separated, you’ve probably heard of spousal maintenance.
Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by one person to another where they are unable to support themselves. But before we dive into more detail, let’s clear up a few things.
Who Can Claim Spousal Maintenance?
First, this isn’t just a question of husbands supporting wives. When it comes to who can claim spousal maintenance, the reverse scenario of a wife supporting the husband can also apply. Further, maintenance can also apply to same sex couples and de-facto relationships.
And, spousal maintenance is also separate from child support. If there are children from the relationship, separate child support arrangements must be made. Child support can run for a different length of time from the spousal maintenance.
As the Family Law Act puts it:
…a person has a responsibility to financially assist their spouse or former de-facto partner, if that person cannot meet their own reasonable expenses from their personal income or assets. Where the need exists, both parties have an equal duty to support and maintain each other as far as they can.
So, we’ve established who can claim spousal maintenance. Let’s return to the question at hand. Does one former partner have to support the other during separation? Well, it depends.
The Court will consider both the needs of the applicant (the person applying for spousal maintenance) and the respondent (the person asked to pay spousal maintenance). In doing so, they will consider:
- The age and health of both parties, and their ability to work and earn a living.
- Income, property, and other financial resources such as superannuation.
- An appropriate standard of living, not a bare-bones existence.
- Whether the relationship affected your ability to earn an income. For example, if one person stayed home to care for children and so has no employable skills or education.
So, let’s say that the applicant has a clear need for financial support. There is still the question of whether the respondent can reasonably provide that support. For that reason, it is important that any application for spousal maintenance must be within a range that the Court is more likely to approve. Asking for too much, or for support that runs too long, may lead to disappointment on your part.
How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?
All spousal maintenance cases have their own unique elements to them. So we can’t provide you with a direct answer here that you can rely on for your own personal situation. But, if you’re wondering how long does spousal maintenance last, you may like to know that:
- Spousal maintenance can be an agreement between you and your former partner, without any Court involvement.
- Urgent spousal maintenance orders can be sought if one partner is in a dire situation after separation. For example, they’re forced to leave the home, and have no access to bank accounts or any means to pay for expenses.
- Interim spousal maintenance arrangements can be put in place by agreement or Court order while the property settlement gets finalised.
- Spousal maintenance could include periodic payments, a lump sum as part of a property settlement, and could also define an end date that maintenance payments will stop.
- Maintenance can be provided in non-cash ways, such as by paying rent and other bills directly.
- Spousal maintenance arrangements can get varied later if there is a change in circumstances. For example, if a partner re-marries, or can resume employment sooner than anticipated.
What Should You Do?
Most importantly, you must keep in mind the time limits that apply to spousal maintenance.
For married couples, spousal maintenance applications must be made within 12 months of the date your divorce gets finalised by the Court. So, if you’ve already filed a divorce application, and you believe that you will need spousal maintenance, you should act promptly.
If you’ve separated but are yet to apply for divorce, then you have more time. But, keep in mind that your ex-partner can file for divorce 12 months and one day after separation. And, once finalised, the clock starts ticking on that time limit.
For de-facto couples, spousal maintenance applications must be made within 2 years of the date of separation. So, the clock starts ticking immediately when you’ve separated. Again, if you were in a de-facto relationship and believe that you will need financial support, you should get some legal advice as soon as you can.
As you can see, spousal maintenance is not an automatic outcome of a separation. If you’ve got questions about applying for spousal maintenance, or your potential obligations to pay, contact our office and book an initial consultation with one of our experienced team of lawyers.