How long must a payer continue to pay spousal maintenance

How long must a payer continue to pay spousal maintenance and in what circumstances were questions considered in Bodily & Hand (2019) 59 Fam LR 425 [2019] Fam CA 210

The parties had separated in 1998.  The husband had paid spousal maintenance for 17 years but by now he sought relief as he was 62 years of age and wished to retire from the work force.  The wife was 61 years of age and suffering from a medical condition.  By November 2009 she was housebound with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.  She received benefits from the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) to assist her in her lifestyle.

The wife now sought an order that the husband pay $3,000 per week indexed annually.

The sources of income for the wife were analysed which included the NDIS payments and the possibility that the wife could draw down on her superannuation entitlements.

The Court considered various issues including:

  • Whether there exists a point in time where it is no longer proper for an order to continue such as retirement or anticipation of retirement
  • Can a court order a party to liquidate assets to pay spousal maintenance
  • Must a payee liquidate her assets

The trial judge considered that it was appropriate to change the order for spousal maintenance that had been previously determined in the sum of $1,500 per week down to $500 per week.  This sum was considered appropriate as a prop up to cover the short fall of the NDIS payments made to the wife.

The basis of the order was that the wife could not adequately support herself.  The order relied upon need and economic capacity.

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