Family Court says long term spousal maintenance orders can be made

Family Court says long term spousal maintenance orders can be made

When do periodic spousal maintenance orders end? Can a court make an open ended order, so that seemingly spousal maintenance can go on forever? On Tuesday the Full Court of the Family Court made a major pronouncement on the issue of long term spousal maintenance orders. The case is currently unreported and has not yet appeared on Austlii.

The husband had appealed to the Full Court of the Family Court from a Federal Magistrate’s decision to make an open ended spousal maintenance order, in circumstances where the wife was a university student. The husband was unsuccessful on appeal.

The Full Court held:

A court making a spousal maintenance order often has a choice between, on the
one hand, leaving the order to operate for an indefinite period, knowing that s.83
of the Act
provides for variation if circumstances so change that variation
is justified or, on the other hand, fixing a date of cessation, which often
involves a prediction, albeit on the balance of probabilities, about future
events. Even if the latter course is chosen, an application to vary by way of
removing or extending the date fixed for cessation, is possible. The major
difference between the choices is simply that in the first instance either party
may be as likely as the other to wish to apply for variation, whereas in the
second instance, only the payee is likely to want a variation and if so, must
seek it.

Disclosure: Harrington Family Lawyers acted for the wife.

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