Spousal maintenance is often an important issue for spouses after separation. The level of financial support provided by one spouse to the other can affect not only the spouse in need but the children of the relationship.
If negotiations fail, it may be necessary to apply to the family court to obtain orders for spousal maintenance or a maintenance agreement can be registered in the court if there is agreement.
But often, as with pursuing child support, the payer often fails to comply with their obligations. It is no longer necessary to incur legal fees chasing spousal maintenance if proper arrangements are put into place when the court order is made or a maintenance agreement is registered in the court.
Not only does the Child Support Agency (CSA) assess and collect child support, it can also collect spousal maintenance payments. When a court order or a court-registered maintenance agreement provides for the payment of spousal maintenance, the spouse can ask the CSA to collect the maintenance at no cost to that party.
The CSA legislation provides the CSA with power to collect “maintenance”, not just child support, when a maintenance obligation arises under a court order.
[Note that a spousal maintenance obligation in a financial agreement is not a “court order” (or court registered agreement) and the assistance of the CSA is not available to collect maintenance.]
When a court order is made for spousal maintenance, the spouse must notify and request registration from the Child Support Registrar within 14 days of the court order (or the court registering the maintenance agreement). If notification is made after 14 days, the CSA is restricted to enforcing the maintenance payments from the date of registration with the CSA, not the date of the order or court registration of the maintenance agreement.
Once registered with the Agency the liability is then owed to the Commonwealth and is no longer a liability only between the spouses. Notwithstanding, the spouse maintains the right to return to court to enforce arrears of the maintenance.
A benefit of registration with the CSA is the further power the CSA can exercise on behalf of someone owed child support or spousal maintenance. The CSA can make a Departure Prohibition Order, which prevents the spouse who owes the money from leaving Australia until the liability is satisfied.
This article was prepared by Margaret Miller, Partner of Bell Legal Group for general information only and it is not legal advice. For legal advice about family law issues contact Alex Wynn on 07 5597 3366 or send an email to email@example.com