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Separating from your ex-partner can be difficult – especially if you’re financially vulnerable.

It’s common to become financially dependent on your partner when you’ve been contributing to other aspects of the relationship.

At Bell Legal, we’ve been helping our clients move on from separations since 1955 – and, as the most experienced family law firm on the Gold Coast, we know how to get you the spousal maintenance you deserve.

You shouldn’t be penalised because you looked after the kids and the house.

Creating a new life for yourself means having the right income, so don’t settle for less than you deserve.

Get the support payments you’re entitled to.

 

 

What is spousal maintenance, spousal support, or alimony in Queensland?

‘Spousal maintenance’, ‘spousal support’, and ‘alimony’ are all terms for the financial support paid by one partner to the other partner following the breakdown of their relationship.

The Family Law Act refers to this kind of financial support as ‘spousal maintenance’, which may be payable after a divorce or at the end of a de facto relationship.

A partner will only be required to pay spousal maintenance to their ex-partner if they cannot support themselves adequately due to:

  • having the care and control of a child of the relationship who is under 18 years old;
  • their age or physical or mental incapacity affecting their ability to gain appropriate employment; or
  • any other adequate reason that makes them unable to support themselves adequately.

Each of these reasons is conditional: a person will only receive spousal maintenance if their former partner can afford to pay. In any application for support, the court must always consider the financial circumstances of both parties.

Spousal maintenance is not an automatic entitlement.  If a person can support themselves adequately, it’s unlikely that they’ll be successful in their application. Similarly, if the person paying spousal maintenance cannot afford to pay spousal maintenance, the applicant will not succeed in obtaining an order.

The court has a duty to end financial relations, so, in many instances, it will make orders that spousal maintenance be paid or not paid for a certain period, or paid in a certain way (such as a lump sum payment).

Court-Ordered Spousal Support

If the parties can’t reach an agreement about spousal maintenance with mediation or with the help of their solicitors, one of the parties (often the ex-partner with the lower earning capacity) can make an application to the court for a spousal maintenance order.

Temporary Spousal Support

The court has a duty to end financial relationships, so, if it does make a spousal maintenance order, support may only need to paid on an interim basis (generally no longer than two years).  Following this period, unless there are special circumstances, the court expects that the payee will become self-supporting.

Am I entitled to spousal maintenance?

When determining your entitlement to spousal maintenance payments, the court will consider the following about you and your ex-partner:

(a)         your age and health, and your capacity for well-paid employment

(b)         your income, property, and financial resources

(c)          your ability to work

(d)         what is a suitable standard of living for you

(e)         whether the relationship has affected the applicant’s ability to earn an income.

If you have children, the court also takes into account with which parent they live, whether they’re under 18 years of age, and whether or not they have disabilities.

How to Apply for Spousal Maintenance

As long as it is safe to do so, you should always start by attempting to reach an agreement with your ex-partner about spousal maintenance arrangements.

If you can’t reach an agreement (or you don’t feel comfortable trying), you need to make an application to the court for support payments from your ex-partner.

Applications almost always have a better chance of succeeding if they’re presented to the court in an appropriate way with the right information, which is why we strongly recommend retaining an experienced spousal maintenance lawyer.

As one of the Gold Coast’s oldest family law firms, we can help you navigate the application process, offer appropriate advice, and ensure your rights are protected every step of the way.  Receiving spousal maintenance can help you maintain a comfortable, healthy lifestyle – for both you and your children – so it’s essential that you get your application right.

Time Limits

If you were married, applications for spousal maintenance must be made within 12 months of your divorce becoming final. There are cases, however, where later applications have been successful.

If you were in a de facto relationship, your application for de facto partner maintenance must be made within two years of your relationship breakdown.

If you do not apply within these time limits, you will need special leave of the court to make an application, which is not always granted.

How can I avoid paying spousal maintenance?

If your ex-partner is entitled to spousal maintenance and you don’t want to make ongoing payments, you can try reaching an agreement with them.  Often, parties make agreements where a lump sum payment is made, which can help bring closure to the relationship more effectively than ongoing payments.  Often the lump sum spousal maintenance is paid as part of a property settlement agreement.

You can also minimise the spousal maintenance your ex-partner may be entitled to by taking on a greater role as a carer of the children of the relationship, enabling your ex-partner to work more and be less reliant on you as a provider.

Spousal Maintenance FAQs

How much spousal maintenance am I entitled to / do I have to pay?

The amount of spousal maintenance that you’re entitled to can vary greatly depending on the circumstances of your relationship.

The court will consider the following about you and your ex-partner:

(a)         your age and health, and your capacity for well-paid employment

(b)         your income, property, and financial resources

(c)          your ability to work

(d)         what is a suitable standard of living for you

(e)         whether the relationship has affected the applicant’s ability to earn an income.

If you have children, the court also takes into account with which parent they live, whether they’re under 18 years of age, and whether or not they have disabilities.

Can de facto partners apply for spousal maintenance?

Yes, de facto partners can apply for spousal maintenance. The same basic rules apply to both spousal maintenance for de facto partners and spousal maintenance for divorced partners.

What’s an example of spousal maintenance in Australia?

The following is a very simplified fictional example showing when spousal maintenance could be payable.

Brad and Angelina married in 2015.

Following their marriage, they agreed that they wanted to have three children and that Angelina would stop work so she could care for the children. When they had their first child, Brad and Angelina were both in their first year out of university and were working as accountants, each earning $50,000 per year.

In 2020, after having three children, the couple agreed to divorce. Because Angelina was caring for the children full-time during the marriage, Brad was able to focus on his career, and was earning $100,000 per year as a result of his extra five years of experience.

Unfortunately, even though Angelina wanted to go back to work as an accountant, she could only obtain employment on an annual salary of $50,000 as a result of her minimal experience. She also needed upskilling for her time out of the workforce.

Brad and Angelina agreed that Brad would pay Angelina $150 each week in spousal maintenance until Angelina’s income increased sufficiently for her to support herself, and that both parties would share the care and expenses of the children.

Does spousal maintenance affect Centrelink benefits?

Yes, spousal maintenance affects your Centrelink benefits. The government considers that if your former spouse or partner can support you, it’s their responsibility, not the taxpayers’, to do so. If you receive spousal maintenance, you’ll need to notify Centrelink, who will then reassess your entitlement to receive any benefits.

Is spousal maintenance taxable in Australia?

You are not required to declare your spousal maintenance to the Australian Taxation Office as spousal maintenance payments are not regarded as taxable income. You will, however, need to notify Centrelink of spousal maintenance payments, as it may affect any Centrelink benefits you receive.

 

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Please note that all information on this page is general information only. It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such or relied upon.  If you think you might need to talk to a solicitor, get in touch with one of our Gold Coast divorce lawyers.