On separation one spouse may be entitled to receive spousal maintenance from the other spouse. This can be because one spouse gave up career opportunities to support the other spouse’s career and/or to raise the children. This is called compensatory spousal maintenance and its purpose is to compensate the spouse for lost income opportunities.

Even if compensatory spousal maintenance is not appropriate a spouse may have a claim based on their need alone if for medical and other reasons they are not able to earn sufficient income and they have suffered an economic disadvantage as a result of the separation. This is called needs based spousal maintenance.

The Family Law Act sets out the criteria a court must consider in determining both entitlement and the quantum of spousal maintenance. Sections 161 and 162 state:

Objectives of spousal support

161 In determining entitlement to spousal support, the parties to an agreement or the court must consider the following objectives:

(a) to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the relationship between the spouses or the breakdown of that relationship;

(b) to apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of their child, beyond the duty to provide support for the child;

(c) to relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the relationship between the spouses;

(d) as far as practicable, to promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.

Determining spousal support

162 The amount and duration of spousal support, if any, must be determined on consideration of the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse, including the following:

(a) the length of time the spouses lived together;

(b) the functions performed by each spouse during the period they lived together;

(c) an agreement between the spouses, or an order, relating to the support of either spouse.

The Divorce Act RSC has similar provisions:

Factors

(4) In making an order under subsection (1) or an interim order under subsection (2), the court shall take into consideration the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse, including

(a) the length of time the spouses cohabited;

(b) the functions performed by each spouse during cohabitation; and

(c) any order, agreement or arrangement relating to support of either spouse.

Objectives of spousal support order

(6) An order made under subsection (1) or an interim order under subsection (2) that provides for the support of a spouse should

(a) recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown;

(b) apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above any obligation for the support of any child of the marriage;

(c) relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage; and

(d) in so far as practicable, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.

Deborah Todd Family Law Victoria
Deborah A. Todd