Can I get spousal maintenance when I am about to claim an inheritance?

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Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the Court has powers to award spousal maintenance to parties of a marriage (under section 74) or a de-facto relationship (under section 90SE).

Generally, a party that is reasonably able to do so has a duty to support the other party, if the other party is not able to support themselves. In taking into account whether to award spousal maintenance, the Court considers a number of issues, such as the age, health, ability to obtain gainful employment, children in their care, and the parties’ reasonable standard of living (as described under section 75 and section 9SF).

Spousal maintenance can be awarded in multiple ways. This can be by way of regular payments, a lump sum payment, and even interim payments (that is, a payment before a final decision is made by the Court in the matter). In some cases, an urgent application for spousal maintenance can be made where the Court determines the party is in immediate need of financial assistance.

Hall v Hall [2016] HCA 23 involved a wife’s application for interim spousal maintenance. This was a family law property matter that was appealed to the High Court.

In that matter, the husband was a property developer, and the wife was a medical practitioner. The wife had commenced an initiating application for permanent spousal maintenance, and also urgent and interim spousal maintenance.

Disclosed in the wife’s financial statement were the wife’s two luxury vehicles, and an unknown interest in her late father’s estate.

The wife’s application for interim spousal maintenance was heard, and at first instance the primary judge awarded the wife $10,833 per month.

The husband then applied for a discharge of the order, which was dismissed by the primary judge. He appealed that decision to the Full Court of the Family Court, who overturned the primary judge’s decision. The wife, by special leave, then appealed to the High Court.

By majority, the High Court supported the Full Court’s findings. During the early course of the matter, the husband had sought information regarding the terms of the wife’s father’s will. Through the husband’s investigations, it became apparent that the wife’s father’s wish was that she receive a payment of $16,500,000.00 upon her divorce from the husband. The terms of the will also allowed for the wife to receive annual payments of $150,000.00 until the date of the divorce.

The wife provided evidence that she had never requested payment of the $150,000.00, and that her father’s estate was wholly in the control of her three brothers only.

The High Court majority agreed with the Full Court, and stated that had the wife asked her brothers for the $150,000.00, she would have been able to receive it. In this regard, this was just cause for the discharge of the interim spousal maintenance order.

The High Court’s decision in Hall highlights the need for legal advice when seeking property orders such as spousal maintenance. If you are needing legal advice in Family Law Property dispute / settlement and where the issue in dispute is for spousal maintenance, our Brisbane Family Lawyers are able to provide clear advice and strategies.

For more information regarding spousal maintenance

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This article was written by James Tan (Senior Associate).