Spousal maintenance is the ongoing financial support of one partner following the breakdown of a relationship, where that person cannot meet their own reasonable needs.

In a recent case, the Family Court was asked to make an interim maintenance order in favour of a wife following the breakdown of a 15 year relationship.

The couple had enjoyed a reasonably comfortable lifestyle from a family income of around $200,000 per annum, which allowed them to maintain their property, buy furniture, provide their three young children with a comfortable home life and enjoy regular holidays.

The wife sought to maintain a lifestyle of a similar level, and claimed interim maintenance in the amount of $1,000 per week. This included the sum of $100 for savings, and $20 for miscellaneous items. The Court considered a claim for savings alone was unreasonable, but decided that each party did have a need for a contingency fund. The Judge considered $15 per week for savings, and $50 per week for contingencies was appropriate. The wife also claimed $507 per week for legal fees as an expense, which the Court reduced to $250.

Overall, the wife’s expenses in operating the household were assessed at $2,002 per week.  The wife had an income of $1,520 (including child support), which left her with a weekly deficit of $482. The husband had an income of $1,940 and expenses of $2,298, leaving him with a deficit of $358.

The Court commented that neither party was living a luxurious lifestyle. They had both adopted a frugal and responsible approach to their new lifestyles following separation, and the husband had been more generous with voluntary child support than he was legally required to be.

Despite them both being assessed as having weekly financial deficits, the husband was ordered to pay interim maintenance in the amount of $200 per week.

Maintenance can be payable during a marriage or civil union, after a marriage or civil union is dissolved, and when a de facto relationship ends (typically only when the de facto relationship lasted three years or longer, although there are some exceptions).

Interim spousal maintenance orders can be made for up to six months. Ongoing maintenance can be ordered for a longer period of time (in some cases several years). Generally, interim maintenance cases follow a recent separation where people have not yet settled relationship property matters, and require assistance in meeting a financial shortfall.

When looking at interim maintenance, the Court has a broad discretion as to whether an order should be made, and the level of maintenance payable. Often it simply comes down to whether the claimant has a need for maintenance, and whether the other person has the ability to pay.

Ongoing maintenance is a little more complicated, and requires the claimant to establish that they cannot practicably meet their own needs because of one or more ‘qualifying circumstances’.

If you have any questions about spousal maintenance, please do not hesitate to contact our Wellington based family lawyers Debbie Dunbar, email debbie.dunbar@morrisonkent.com, phone (04) 495 9940 or Maretta Twentyman, email maretta.twentyman@morrisonkent.com, phone (04) 495 8918.