Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by a spouse to their former partner in circumstances where they are unable to sufficiently support themselves.
According to the Family Court of Australia, “Under the Family Law Act 1975, 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. This obligation can continue even after separation and divorce. The extent of the support depends on what the other party can afford to pay.”
This article looks at a case study of how spousal maintenance is determined by the court.
John and Mel have separated. They have a 6 year old son, Harry. Harry lives with Mel and spends time with John three nights per fortnight.
Mel works two days per week and earns $400 gross per week. She also receives a Centrelink payment of $500 per fortnight. She receives child support of $200 per week from John as assessed by the Child Support Agency.
Mel’s simplified weekly expenses are:
- Tax: $50
- Rent: $500
- Groceries: $150
- Utilities: $100
- Fuel: $100
- Entertainment: $250
- Hairdressing: $50
- Total: $1,200 per week
John works full time and earns $2,115 gross per week.
John’s simplified weekly expenses are:
- Tax: $540
- Mortgage: $600
- Groceries: $100
- Utilities: $80
- Fuel: $50
- Entertainment: $150
- Child support: $200
- Total: $1,720
As a first port of call we look to Mel’s need. This includes looking at Mel’s income. Both the Centrelink payment and the child support payment are not counted. Her income is $400 per week. There may well be consideration as to whether Mel has the capacity to earn a higher income, particularly as Harry is at school. For the purpose of our example, we will assume that it is considered that, due to her primary care of Harry, $400 per week is a reasonable figure to assume as Mel’s income.
We then look at Mel’s expenses. It is highly likely that the amounts of $250 per week for entertainment and $50 per week for hairdressing are challenged as being unreasonably high. Let’s assume that they are factored in at $100 per week & $10 per week instead. Mel’s expenses are therefore $1,010 per week. Her need is therefore $710 per week – which is calculated as expenses minus income equals need (i.e. $1,010 – $400).
We must then look at John’s capacity to pay spousal maintenance.
He has a capacity of $395 per week which is calculated by income minus expenses (i.e. $2,115 – $1,720). It may be that his entertainment expense is also reduced to $100 per week. If so, his capacity becomes $445 per week (i.e. $2,115 – $1,670).
The result is that John pays Mel spousal maintenance of $445 per week. It may be that this payment is for a specified period of time, until Mel is able to retrain and obtain additional employment and therefore a higher income from which she can pay her own expenses.
For the background to spousal maintenance, we suggest that you read our article on spousal maintenance here.
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