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what is alimony

Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support, refers to the financial payments made by one spouse to the other following a divorce or separation.


It is intended to provide financial assistance to the spouse who may have become economically disadvantaged during the marriage or has a lower earning capacity. Alimony aims to help the recipient spouse maintain a similar standard of living to what they had during the marriage.

What is Alimony?

In Australia, alimony payments are determined and governed by the Family Law Act 1975. The Act recognises that one party may require financial support from the other, particularly in cases where there is a significant discrepancy in income or earning capacity.


Alimony is not automatically granted in every case, as it depends on the circumstances of the couple, their respective financial situations and ultimately may require court orders from the family court.

What are Alimony Payments?

When determining alimony payments, the court considers several factors, including:


Financial needs


The court evaluates the financial needs of the receiving spouse, taking into account their age, health, employment status, and ability to support themselves.


Financial capacity


The court assesses the paying spouse’s ability to provide financial support, considering their income, assets, and liabilities.


Standard of living


The court aims to maintain a similar standard of living for the receiving spouse, ensuring they can meet reasonable expenses and maintain their lifestyle.




The court takes into account the contributions of each spouse during the marriage, both financial and non-financial, such as caring for children or managing household responsibilities.


Future prospects


The court considers the future earning capacity and financial prospects of both spouses.


In addition to this, eligibility requirements for spousal maintenance payments consist of two main conditions that must be met.


  • Demonstrating financial need – The spouse seeking spousal maintenance must establish their inability to support themselves financially. This can be due to their inability to secure suitable employment or because they have the responsibility of caring for a child who is under the age of 19.
  • Capacity to pay – The spouse responsible for making the payments must have the reasonable capacity to do so. The court considers factors such as income, expenses, property, and other financial resources when assessing the paying spouse’s ability to provide spousal maintenance. The court also determines the specific amount of spousal maintenance based on these considerations.

In addition to understanding what alimony entails in Australia, it’s important to be aware of any time limits associated with claiming spousal maintenance payments.


For couples who have obtained a divorce, spousal maintenance payments must be awarded within 12 months of the divorce.


For couples who have separated but not divorced, spousal maintenance payments must be awarded within 24 months of the separation.


Remaining mindful of these time limits is crucial for both parties involved in a divorce or separation when considering the possibility of seeking spousal maintenance payments or a property settlement.

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How to Apply for Spousal Maintenance?

To initiate the process of applying for spousal maintenance, it is strongly advised to seek independent legal advice from family lawyers in Sydney or a community legal service. Note that for certain financial orders, obtaining independent legal advice before applying to court is mandatory.


Spousal maintenance hearings are typically conducted by the Federal Circuit Court (FCC). The court can issue an order either after a hearing or if both parties agree and request consent orders.


To apply for spousal maintenance, you will need to complete and file an application form with the FCC. Alternatively, your lawyer can handle this on your behalf. The FCC website provides general information on making an application, and it is also possible to file your application online.


It is crucial to adhere to the specified time limit for making the application. Failure to do so may result in your application being rejected.


A filing fee is charged by the FCC for submitting your application. It may be possible to negotiate sharing this cost with your former partner, and in some cases, the court may decide to waive the fee. For detailed information on filing fees, refer to the FCC website.


The FCC will then assign a hearing date or do so at a later stage. Prior to the hearing, the court will establish deadlines for various tasks, such as document disclosure.


Additionally, you will be required to provide evidence relating to your income, bills, debts, caring responsibilities for dependents, and lifestyle needs.


It is essential to ensure that the respondent receives a copy of the application in accordance with the specific rules for service. This ensures that the respondent is properly informed about the application and has an opportunity to respond. If you have legal representation, your lawyer will handle the service process.


The FCC’s process can vary depending on factors such as the complexity of the issues, document retrieval requirements, the need to resolve other matters first, and the level of cooperation between the parties involved.


The court will schedule a hearing during which you and your former partner will have an opportunity to present your respective arguments and evidence for the court’s consideration. Following the hearing and careful evaluation of all the evidence, the FCC will make a decision regarding the spousal maintenance orders. These orders are legally binding, and all parties are obligated to comply with them.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

The duration of alimony payments in Australia can vary depending on the circumstances. In some cases, alimony may be awarded for a specified period, known as a term order. This period allows the receiving spouse to become financially self-sufficient or obtain necessary education or training. In other situations, alimony may be awarded indefinitely until there is a significant change in circumstances, such as the remarriage of the recipient spouse or a substantial increase in their income.


It’s important to note that alimony in Australia can be negotiated and agreed upon by the divorcing couple without involving the court. However, if the parties cannot reach a mutual agreement, the court will make a determination based on the factors mentioned earlier.


Accordingly, you should seek legal advice from a divorce lawyers in Sydney who specialises in divorce and family law matters to understand how alimony applies to your specific situation and to ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout the process.



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