Ramifications for Spousal Maintenance

As a specialist family law firm, we are often approached by clients who left the workforce during the relationship, often to care for young children, and following separation, are left without the ability to adequately support themselves.

Spousal maintenance, which is separate and distinct from property settlement, is often a cause of action available to such clients. In this article, our Ryan Brenson, solicitor, whom has a particular interest in this area of family law, discusses the recent appeal decision of Dodt & Elei[2018] FamCAFC 92.  

In this matter, the Wife had been out of the workforce for five (5) years at the time of the hearing her application for spousal maintenance. She had historically worked in the service industry, starting from the bottom, and working her way to the top, as a manger. She was a manager at the time she left the workforce to care for her ill father. 

At the interim hearing, part of the Husband’s case was that the Wife had skills in the lower end of the service industry and skills additional to that of a manager. Thus, the gravamen of his case was that the Wife, while having skills to that of a manger, could pursue lower end or other opportunities in her chosen field. On the Husband’s case, such lower end jobs were readily available. 

On appeal, Justice Ryan, rejected this aspect of the Husband’s argument and held:

She [the Wife] should have the opportunity to pursue employment in her chosen field, which reflects her qualifications and experiences and in the long term maximise her earning capacity and financial security”.

Thus, the resounding message from the Court in this case is that before our clients are “pushed” back to employment which they have in effect outgrown, they should first have the opportunity to gain employment at a level akin to that of what they achieved during the currency of the relationship.