Educate Yourself About Law

Why Spousal Maintenance Is Never Guaranteed

by Erika Reed

When two parties separate following a lengthy marriage, it can be challenging to sort out those finances. What factors should be taken into account if one party expects the other to support them going forward?

Times Have Changed

At one time in the past, the male (in a heterosexual marriage) would be called the breadwinner, while the female would typically be classified as the homemaker. Household revenues would be generated by the former, while the latter would take care of any children that happened to come along. This approach is often seen as old-fashioned today, however, and may no longer reflect the make-up of traditional marriage.  

Spousal Maintenance

In Australian law, the type of scenario in which a person who was the breadwinner sends payments to their ex-spouse is called spousal maintenance, but it is by no means guaranteed following any break-up. The person who may seek such support will need to prove that they are in real need, and they can't expect it to be a handout.

Appropriate Decision

If the plaintiff did indeed give up any earnings capability to assume the role of the homemaker, knowing that they would be put at a financial disadvantage individually, then they may have a case. They may need to show that they are now unable to resume the type of work that they did before and can put forward several reasons to support this. For example, many years may have gone by, and they may now be too old to apply for a vacancy. Alternatively, they may be in ill health, and this is a condition that has developed during the marriage.


In every case, the court will determine an appropriate living standard for both partners. They will need to ensure that the defendant (the breadwinner) can provide financial support for the plaintiff without suffering any real hardship. Therefore, a great deal of financial information will need to be supplied, including the assets, financial resources and earnings of both parties. The court will also consider the children from the marriage, especially if they now live with the plaintiff.

The Process

In an ideal world, both parties would sit down and agree to terms before going anywhere near a court of law. If this proved to be impossible, however, then they should seek independent mediation as a next step. Typically, the courtroom is the last resort, but if you find yourself in this position, you will need the services of a family law consultant to help you present your case.