Jay Pierce from our [family law, relationship property] team explores….…
The costs of spousal maintenance could have you paying your ex-spouse over $2,000 per week until proceedings are finished. Nikita Govind explores the recent decision of ARS v SJS  NZHC 22 and how the court may find high spousal maintenance costs reasonable.
The High Court recently considered the factors that apply when deciding how much – and for how long – a spouse should have to make regular payments to allow the other spouse to maintain their usual standard of living after separation. In some circumstances, payments could run to thousands of dollars a week to keep a spouse in the style to which they had become accustomed.
SJS was told by ARS (her spouse of seven years) that it was over. She and ARS were used to a high standard of living derived from her husband’s generous trust advances. SJS filed an application under section 63 of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 for spousal maintenance. This would allow her to claim a payment from her husband to maintain her living standards where she could not meet them herself.
It was found that during their marriage SJS did not need to work, and she instead supported ARS in his personal and business interests. She required over $2,000 per week to manage her lifestyle. After the separation she became employed. However, her income could not sustain her level of expenses.
The Family Court awarded spousal maintenance to SJS of $1,500 per week. ARS appealed the decision.
The court assessed the payment of spousal maintenance as a four-stage approach:
- analysis of the applicant’s reasonable needs;
- the ability of the applicant to meet their needs;
- whether there is a qualifying circumstance under s 63(2); and
- the amount payable.
Determining a spouse’s reasonable needs is a very fact-specific task. It can involve an analysis of the relationship prior to separation and the circumstances following separation. Further, the reasonable needs of one person cannot be said to be the reasonable needs of another person.
This case considered the division of functions and the standard of living of the parties. The court found that there were two circumstances that gave rise to spousal maintenance; division of functions (or roles) in the marriage and the parties’ high standard of living.
Given that SJS did not need to work and supported ARS, the court found that there were distinct roles within the marriage. However, even if there was no division of functions, the court was satisfied that spousal maintenance should be awarded given the parties’ high standard of living prior to the separation.
Regarding the amount payable, spousal maintenance payments were not to be restricted to the necessities of life. This meant that high living standards could be considered. The court accepted that SJS’s weekly expenses equating to $2,312.00, however, reduced the amount payable by ARS to account for her employment income. ARS was therefore required to pay maintenance of $1,360. This amount was reasonable, as the court considered the parties’ living standard prior to separation.
However, as the court maintained from a prior decision, maintenance is not always payable even if a spouse can afford to pay for it.
If you are unsure whether you can claim spousal maintenance or uncertain if you are required to pay it, please contact our relationship property team: