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Under the Family Law Act, spouses (and this includes de facto spouses) have an obligation to financially support each other. This is called “spousal maintenance”, and normally takes the form of a weekly payment from one spouse to the other, unrelated to child support. In simple terms, the requirement turns on two factors, firstly, whether the receiving party has a need for support, and secondly, whether the paying party can afford it.

In a recent case in the Family Court, the husband and wife had separated. The wife had had skilled employment throughout the relationship, but chose to leave that employment upon separation to study in a different field.  She described this in evidence as “pursuing her dream”.

Whilst she was pursuing her dream, she remained living in the former matrimonial home and refused to contribute to the mortgage. The husband was forced to meet the mortgage as well as paying his own rent in an effort to preserve his credit rating.  The wife then made an application to the Court seeking that the husband pay her spousal maintenance as well as the entirety of the mortgage. By this stage, whilst the wife was pursuing her dream, the husband was experiencing a financial nightmare.

After hearing the evidence, the Court found that whilst it may be commendable that the mother was studying to “pursue her dream”, it did not follow that she was entitled to spousal maintenance from her husband to fund it. The fact that she chose to study rather than to continue to be employed in a profession in which she had substantial skills was entirely her choice, and the husband was not obliged to support it. In short, her need for maintenance was entirely of her choosing, and the husband did not have to fund it.

In the circumstances, as the wife was not willing to contribute to the mortgage, the court ordered that the house be sold pending a final property settlement between the parties.