Alexa Carey, Associate

Imagine you are Louise. 

You (Louise) and Tom married in 2005. 

You have two delightful children together, Ruby and Jack. 

Shortly after Jack was born you decided to take a career break so that you could devote more time and energy to your kids. 

Tom continued to work as an Engineer, becoming the sole breadwinner of the family.  He quickly rose through the ranks.

Despite Jack and Ruby starting school you decide to hold off your return to work until the kids are a bit more independent.  Tom earns enough to sustain the family, and for you to attend pilates, host your friends for gourmet dinner parties, and get your nails done when you feel like it – a pretty comfortable life for all. 

Unfortunately, in November 2016 you and Tom decide to separate.  Jack and Ruby remain living with you in the family home while you work out what to do with it.  They stay with their dad every second weekend. 

Although you realise you have to return to work to support yourself and your kids, the graphics industry has changed immensely over the past 8 years and you soon realise you are way behind the times. The technology has changed so much, you’re going to have to spend at least six months retraining before you can look at re-joining the work force.  

You have no idea how you are going to get by like you used to without Tom’s income to rely on.  Thankfully your friend refers you to a Family Lawyer who tells you about the concept of Spousal Maintenance.  She thinks that you might fit the criteria.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

The lawyer explains that spousal maintenance is a special order from the Court, which requires one party to a relationship to provide for the reasonable financial needs of their partner after a relationship ends.  It is generally only a temporary measure, but one that gives you enough time to get back on your feet.   

To qualify you must be able to show that you are unable to meet your reasonable [financial] needs due to the division of functions during your relationship

The lawyer explains that you meet the criteria because you stayed at home to run the household while Tom kept on working, and because you’ve been out of the work force for too long, you’re now struggling to find a job, meaning you have very little income. 

She also says your application is likely to be successful because:

-          You have to undertake further education/training to increase earning capacity;

-          You have the primary responsibility for the care of the children;

-          Without Spousal Maintenance you will be unable to become self-supporting or meet the standard of living you had during your relationship.

Following your meeting with the lawyer, your lawyer helps you make an application for Spousal Maintenance in the Family Court. 

Tom is ordered to make weekly lump sum payments to you for six months so that you can continue to meet your reasonable weekly needs and complete the latest refresher course in graphics software.  You are even able to keep up the pilates and nail appointments.  After 6 months you get a job at a local design firm.   

Spousal Maintenance is a non-discriminatory remedy and could easily apply in the reverse, i.e. if Tom was the lesser earner in the relationship, or stayed at home to raise the children.

Billings Lawyers have a wealth of experience in preparing and defending Spousal Maintenance applications and can help you work through the numerous issues that can arise during a relationship and when a relationship ends. 

If you are in a situation like Tom or Louise, or you would like to avoid one, please contact us – we would be happy to discuss your options. 

Contact:  Alexa Carey | acarey@billings.co.nz | (06) 757 3944

The content of this article is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely on this article.