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Spousal Maintenance vs Child Support: the basics

It may come as a surprise to some that when a relationship ends, one party might still be compelled to make a lump sum or ongoing payments to support their former spouse.  Even if you do not have children with your former partner, you may still be required to pay a certain amount if the necessary requirements of “Spousal Maintenance” have been met. 

Spousal Maintenance is completely separate to child support, but the two are often misconstrued and taken to be one and the same.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between child support payments and spousal maintenance payments and briefly explain obligations in respect of these.

 

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal Maintenance is essentially financial support that is paid by one former partner to the other partner of a marriage or de facto relationship that has broken down in circumstances where the other party is unable to adequately support themselves.  It is money which is to be used by the recipient to assist in payment of their reasonable living expenses.

You might be asking yourself, why would does financial support need to be provided to a former partner if there is no longer a relationship?  In short, the law in Australia states that a person may have a responsibility to financially assist their former spouse or de facto partner if that person cannot meet their own living expenses.  The duty to support and maintain each other works both ways, and this obligation may continue even after separation.

To be successful in an application for Spousal Maintenance, there are essentially two limbs that must be satisfied.  Firstly, the applicant must have a need.  Secondly, the respondent must have capacity to pay spousal maintenance.  There are a range of factors which the Court consider when a party seeks such orders, such as the age of the parties, care of children and the parties’ income and financial resources, to name a few.
 

Child Support

Child Support, on the other hand, refers to the financial support by a parent specifically for their child/ren.  A private arrangement for the payment of child support can be negotiated between the parties and recorded in a Binding Child Support Agreement or a Limited Child Support Agreement.  For the former, both parties need independent legal advice.  Such agreements can cover the payment of periodic child support (a regular amount for example) or non-periodic amounts.  Non-periodic amounts can include payments towards costs such as education, medical and extra-curricular costs.  Lump sum payments are also possible.

Alternatively, or in conjunction with the above, Child Support may be assessed at a particular rate by the Department of Human Services (Child Support Agency).  Child Support matters are managed by Services Australia which is the entity that administers the Australian Child Support Scheme. The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court of Australia does not generally deal with Child Support matters, although it may be possible to apply to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia for a departure from a child support assessment carried out by the Child Support Agency in certain circumstances.
 

Time limitation for Spousal Maintenance

It is important to note that there is a time limitation for a party to make a claim for Spousal Maintenance against the other party.  This date is 12 months from the date that a divorce order takes effect if you were married, and 24 months from the breakdown of your relationship if you were a de facto spouse.

Interestingly, the Court still has power to grant permission (“leave”)  to a party who is making an application for spousal maintenance (married) or maintenance (de facto) even if that party is out of time.  For this, the party making the application will need to demonstrate hardship.

What this means in practical terms, is that in some circumstances, it could be possible to make an application for Spousal Maintenance even after the limitation period has elapsed and/or after property settlement has been finalised.
 

Seek legal advice

There is no one particular way to approach matters involving Spousal Maintenance and Child Support, as it will really depend on the individual circumstances of every case.  This is why it is always best to seek legal advice about your situation, obligations and entitlements, as well as tailoring the best options to your needs and the needs of your family.

Sometimes people do not realise that they may be entitled to receive payments from their former partner by way of spousal maintenance.  Likewise, some people might fail to recognise the risk of there being a potential Spousal Maintenance application made against them in the future even after they finalise a property settlement.  There are ways to limit potential future liability in this regard, such as entering into a Binding Financial Agreement which effectively extinguishes spousal maintenance rights for one or both parties.

Contact us today and make an appointment with Shannon Daykin, an Accredited Family Law Specialist, to discuss your circumstances and needs.  Shannon was recently named as one of Brisbane’s Leading Family & Divorce Lawyers (Recommended) and Leading Parenting & Children’s Matters Lawyers (Leading) 2021, Brisbane, in the prestigious Doyle’s Family Law Guide.  We offer a reduced fixed fee initial consultation, which can be conducted in person, by phone or by video conference.

We give you expert legal advice on the most appropriate and cost-effective course of action for you and your family.  Contact us on (07) 3852 5490 to make an appointment for a fixed fee initial consultation today.

 

Is January Really ‘Divorce Month’?

It’s often said that January is ‘Divorce Month’, a time where there is suddenly an influx of separations and ensuing divorce proceedings, however is this really the case?  Today’s blog looks at why January has this reputation and what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

It is true that many family lawyers find themselves busier at the start of the year, with a reported spike in breakups of about 30% in January. This could be due to a myriad of factors, but may be associated with more time spent together over the festive season and the stress that can sometimes cause, for example an extended period of time spent unoccupied with work and the regular mundane distractions.

There has been reported anecdotal evidence of three main factors that contribute to the increase in separations and the onset of divorce proceedings in January, these are:

  1. The increased time spent together during the holidays: it’s fair to say that holidays are known to be a period of switching off and spending time with loved ones. This increase in quality time can have an adverse effect when a couple is under a period of certain strain, and can often heighten the stresses and existing relationship difficulties. This time of year may exacerbate existing issues and doubts in couples and bring their problems to the surface, becoming more clear and suddenly difficult to ignore.
  2. New year resolutions: with a new year brings new resolutions. This is often a time for self-reflection and plans for self-improvement. When a person has been dealing with stagnancy or unhappiness in their relationship, the new year can be a time for renewal and growth. This is often a purposeful time where individuals feel they can make the difficult decision to end a relationship in search for a clean break and a more positive future.
  3. Christmas spent with the family: usually a period of time where family holds the most meaning, and usually the most amount of time. Couples with children may more likely to resist ending their relationship during this time as they do not wish to cause strain on the family dynamic and result in stress to the children. Additionally, this period results in a lack of time and resources available for couples seeking legal advice due to taking care of the children. It is because of this that parents may choose to separate in this time as they are now provided the space to make decisions without the pressure of Christmas.

This was further backed by a 2016 report by the University of Washington who conducted research from hard data on divorce filings over a 14 year period. The evidence showed a clear and consistent rise in divorce proceedings beginning in January more than any other month of the year! The researchers behind this study noted the significant impact that the above points had on this pattern.

What should I do if I’m considering getting a divorce?

When you come to the conclusion that separation is the best option for yourself and your partner, the flood of information available can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to seek out factual information, understand your legal responsibilities, grapple with the division of property and finances on top of parental arrangements. In this time of heightened stress, it is important to have someone reliable you can speak to, someone you can trust and someone who can help to support you emotionally and logistically and who can also assist you in getting the best outcome available for you and your family.

When planning the next steps of separation towards divorce, a helpful list of practical steps supported by useful information is the perfect place to start. We recently wrote a blog on the basics of divorce to assist in this exact situation, this resource can be found here: https://daykinfamilylaw.com.au/the-basics-of-divorce-applications-2/

The main things to consider when beginning the first stages of the divorce process are:

  1. Financial and Property Settlements: one of the most important and stressful elements when it comes to divorce and the negotiation of assets among divorcees or separating couples. The levels of complexity of each of these settlements lies with each individual couple, sometimes agreements can be straightforward and made easy, other times no agreements can be reached and court action may be required. In the latter instance, it is advisable to work with a specialist family lawyer who is able to assist in the resolution of these differences.  It is also important to consider other advice needed, such as financial advice and taxation advice.  This is to ensure any agreement reached or orders sought are appropriate for your situation.
  2. Parenting Arrangements: another complexity when couples begin the separation process is the responsibilities around children and how to navigate the arrangements in the best interests of the children. The principal consideration in any parenting arrangement by law is that the best interests of the child are paramount. Negotiations and agreements often focus on many factors including where the children will live and how much time each parent will spend with the children considering holidays, birthday commitments and special days.  Other agreements can be reached around communications, travel and addressing specific issues.

It is important to seek independent legal advice to help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and where possible, avoid going to Court. If you are seeking legal advice about your separation, or just need to understand your options further, Daykin Family Law can help.

Contact us today to make an appointment with Shannon Daykin, an Accredited Family Law Specialist.  Shannon was recently named as one of Brisbane’s Leading Family & Divorce Lawyers (Recommended) and Leading Parenting & Children’s Matters Lawyers (Leading) 2021, Brisbane, in the prestigious Doyle’s Family Law Guide.  We offer a reduced fixed fee initial consultation, which can be conducted in person, by phone or by video conference.

We give you expert legal advice on the most appropriate and cost-effective course of action for you and your family.  Contact us on (07) 3852 5490 to make an appointment for a fixed fee initial consultation today.

 

The blog published by Daykin Family Law is intended as general information only and is not legal advice on any subject matter. By viewing the blog posts, the reader understands there is no solicitor-client relationship between the reader and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a legal practitioner, and readers are urged to consult Daykin Family Law on any legal queries concerning a specific situation.

Co-parenting at Christmas – a Quick Guide for Separated Families

Christmas is considered a very special time of the year for many people around the world, but for some it can be a time of sadness and frustration.  Following a relationship breakdown, Christmas may seem like a daunting time, particularly when parenting children across separate households.

Where both parents are willing and able and there are no safety concerns to consider, the best outcome of a separation is co-parenting. This is where both parents agree to put their children’s interests first and to communicate in a respectful, child-focused way, setting boundaries and compromising to lead the way to effective co-operation.

Here are some ways in which you can ensure the best chances of ensuring a happy and healthy Christmas this year for your children:

 

  1. The kids come first

When making decisions, always consider what is in the best interests of the children. Younger children may worry about whether Santa will reach them, whilst older children might have a preference for where they spend Christmas. Bringing them into the decision-making process can be beneficial for the whole family and make children feel heard.

 

  1. Communication is key

Each parent should communicate their expectations in advance with each other as it is important that both parents understand the other’s needs. Being prepared, realistic and willing to listen and compromise may make a stressful situation more manageable.

 

  1. Sharing of Christmas presents

In regards to Christmas presents, consider agreeing on a budgetary limit so as to avoid one parent being perceived as giving more than the other. To try and preserve some form of normalcy, both parents can agree to buy one main present for each child signed from both parents. This approach will demonstrate a united front.

 

  1. Sharing of time with the children

You may decide that your children should spend Christmas Eve at one home and Christmas Day at another.  Whatever you decide when co-parenting at Christmas, you can find ways to make it special for the children, and extended family too.

 

  1. Travel arrangements

Where traveling will be involved with one of the parents over Christmas, it is advisable to make sure the other parent has agreed to the plans, or that a compromise can be made for time spent together before or after the travel period if a Parenting Plan has not yet been agreed upon.

 

  1. Avoid any fighting

When discussing Christmas plans, ensure the discussion does not end up in a fight, especially in front of the children. Research tells us that this may perpetuate any guilty feelings the children may have over the separation.  Try to communicate in a clear and respectful way and ensure the children are not exposed to a dispute.

 

  1. Send updates

Agreeing on an ‘update’ style of communication can be beneficial.  You can report on activities, send photos of particular events and help the other parent to feel involved.  Give and ask for information that you expect to get as a parent in a timely manner.

 

  1. Accommodate the feelings of the children

Where the children may start to miss the other parent, consider allowing the children to contact the parent so as to alleviate their anxiety, especially where the children are still young. It is important that the children are not made to feel guilty for experiencing such feelings or feeling ‘stuck in the middle’ of a separation.

 

  1. Involve the children in the Christmas planning

When the Christmas arrangements have been planned and agreed between both parents, it can be important to communicate these plans to the children so that they feel involved and that there are no surprises for them.

 

  1. Be flexible and listen to the needs of the children

Where the children feel uncomfortable with any Christmas plans, it is important to take their feelings into consideration and consider whether any plans could or should be amended so that they feel safe and assured. Like the first tip, the children come first, so keep their best interests at heart.

 

Holidays like Christmas may be a difficult time for children especially young children therefore it is vital that each parent put aside their feelings and ensure there is a smooth transition for the children during this time. Despite all of your efforts, it is possible that difficulties may still arise. You can take responsibility for what you do as a parent, however you cannot be responsible for how the other parent behaves. If you find yourself in this situation where the other parent will not cooperate, remember that help is available.

If you’ve tried all the above tips but have difficulties communicating with the other parent after separation, you may need to consider other options.  This may include engaging a lawyer to help negotiate plans on your behalf, or engage the assistance of a mediator to assist in facilitating an agreement.

We can assist you through the process of separation and to come to an amicable agreement regarding parenting arrangements.

Contact us today to make an appointment with Shannon Daykin, an Accredited Family Law Specialist.  Shannon was recently named as one of Brisbane’s Leading parenting lawyers in the prestigious Doyle’s Family Law Guide.  We offer a reduced fixed fee initial consultation, which can be conducted in person, by phone or by video conference.

The blog published by Daykin Family Law is intended as general information only and is not legal advice on any subject matter. By viewing the blog posts, the reader understands there is no solicitor-client relationship between the reader and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a legal practitioner, and readers are urged to consult Daykin Family Law on any legal queries concerning a specific situation.

Protecting your mental health through separation or divorce

Separation or divorce can be an emotional journey that can have both physical and mental health effects on people.  The separation and divorce process, coupled in some situations with the family court process, can become incredibly stressful, taking a toll on the wellbeing of parties, sometimes impairing their judgment and decision-making abilities.

Literature tells us that separated couples going through the process might experience a range of overwhelming psychological symptoms that includes loneliness, sadness, shock, anger, uncertainty, guilt, betrayal, frustration, hopelessness, or a mixture of all.  These feelings can last a short-time or have a lasting impact and so it is important to deal with those feelings in a healthy way.

Mental health is a vital aspect of our wellbeing. Many people see mental health issues as only serious disorders or health conditions, however things like stress can have a big impact on mental health.  It’s easy to shrug off your own feelings, particularly when juggling work and parental responsibilities, however it’s important to prioritise self-care.

Here are a few ways parties going through a separation or divorce might consider when prioritising their mental health.

 

Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During Separation or Divorce

 

  1. Talk

It can be important to talk things out. Even when your feelings are particularly strong, you should try to communicate them to a trusted confidant.

Endeavour to build healthy relationships and surround yourself with a support team of people with similar values as you, who understand and who can listen to you.

Your support team can include a family member, friend, colleague or a third party counsellor.

 

  1. Acknowledge the pain

Acknowledging the feeling of loss caused by separation can be crucial.

When couples separate due to the death of a partner, there is a defined grieving process of denial, questioning, depression or anger, evaluation, and acceptance.

On the other hand, when a partner is lost due to separation or divorce, many partners find themselves without clear guidance on how to process the loss.

Our review of literature in this area tells us that some couples have found it helpful to follow the ‘five stages of grief’ model:

 

  • Denial

This occurs at the beginning of the separation or divorce process. At this stage, couples find it difficult to accept that the relationship is coming to an end.

It can be normal to have a feeling of denial when you go through such a major life-changing event as separation or divorce. It is a form of coping mechanism people use.

 

  • Questioning

At this stage, you question whether there is a way you could have handled things differently besides going through separation or divorce. At this point, you may wish you could change the past and the events that led to the relationship breakdown.

 

  • Depression or Anger

You may experience anger, anxiety, depression as different negative feelings begin to emerge. At this stage, you may benefit from the added support of loved ones or professionals.

 

  • Evaluation

At this stage, you might begin to weigh the reasons that your relationship didn’t work and this may include taking responsibility for your part in the breakdown.

The factors that led to the breakdown of your relationship may be difficult to process, but evaluating what went wrong and taking ownership where required can help in moving on.

While evaluating, no matter what caused the breakdown of the relationship, it is important to allow yourself to acknowledge the emotions that come with this stage.

 

  • Acceptance

This is the stage where you accept what has happened and take steps to move on or look towards the future.

It is important to remember that every individual is unique and process grief differently. It may be totally normal if you don’t fit into a particular grieving model.

 

  1. Maintain physical health

We all know that physical health is closely connected with mental health. Stress that persists for a long time can cause health problems which can have a tremendous impact on mental health.

It therefore becomes paramount that you maintain or improve your physical health when going through the process of separation or divorce.

It might be of help to partake in stress-reducing physical activities that fit into to your lifestyle such as swimming, walking, jogging, bike riding, or having a good night’s sleep.

 

  1. Stay positive

It can be daunting to have a positive outlook when dealing with an intense life transition such as separation or divorce.

It is crucial however to try to swap the negative feelings and emotions that come along with positive thoughts. Positive emotions have a way of translating to healthy mental wellbeing.

Think of the things that are within your control and then make a plan to improve them, if needed.

Optimistic thinking has been shown to enhance mental and overall health.

 

  1. Take time to review what matters to you

The mental stress of divorce or separation can make you lose yourself. This might be a good time to review what matters to you and a time for reconstructing who you are again.

Find what matters to you – this could be spiritual or religious beliefs, music, art, or other activities or hobbies that bring you joy. Rediscovering purpose and remembering the positives in life promotes good mental health. It can also be a means of coping through separation or divorce.

At a stressful time, it is vital to have a trusted advisor on side to help you through the maze of separation. At Daykin Family Law, we strive to make the separation and divorce process as collaborative and conflict-free as is possible.

 

Daykin Family Law’s Director, Shannon Daykin, is a Brisbane based family lawyer and an Accredited Family Law Specialist with a wealth of experience and expertise in family law.  If you’re considering your options for divorce resolution and would like to keep the matter as stress-free as possible, contact us today for a no obligation consultation to find out if it’s right for you.

If you are concerned about your mental health or wellbeing, we recommend that you contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

The blog published by Daykin Family Law is intended as general information only and is not legal advice on any subject matter. By viewing the blog posts, the reader understands there is no solicitor-client relationship between the reader and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a legal practitioner, and readers are urged to consult Daykin Family Law on any legal queries concerning a specific situation.

Child custody mediation

What is child custody mediation and how do I prepare?

Questions around the process of mediation are often asked by our clients.  We all know that going through a divorce is tough – for you, your ex-partner, for the children and wider family.  When emotions are high and the future is uncertain, there can be a significant amount of conflict that arises in the decision making process, leading one or both partners to find themselves unable to compromise or reach a decision in the best interests of the children.

 

In Australia, as discussed in our recent child custody blog, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) suggests first and foremost that couples do not use the Courts where possible and instead engage in mediation prior to escalating to the Court.  Even where a parenting orders application is made through the Court, the applicant will most likely be obliged to demonstrate that they have attempted to resolve their differences prior to having the Court intervene.

Custody is no longer a term used by the Family Law Courts, opting instead for terms associated with what time a child spends with each parent and what communications they will have.  If it is safe, both parents are encouraged to play an active role in their children’s lives for the benefit of their wellbeing.  However, it can be difficult to come to an agreed decision on issues such as health, living arrangements, finances and education.

When parents can’t agree, that’s where a mediator comes in.  Your family lawyer can organise for an experienced Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner to facilitate discussions between both parties in an impartial, calm manner.  The goal of mediation is to come to an agreement approved on both sides that can by turned into either a Parenting Plan or approved by the Courts in a formal Consent Order if required.

Mediators are not there to make judgements or take sides.  They are engaged to essentially chair a meeting between both parties, to facilitate proactive discussion in a safe, controlled environment that allows a resolution to be reached which is in their children’s best interests.

 

How do I go about getting a mediator?

 

There are a number of options for mediation. The most cost effective being the use of the Family Relationship Centres, Family Relationships Australia or other public and community-based services. These services are able to assist parents to discuss the issues and potentially write up a new Parenting Plan.  Legal representatives are not permitted in that process however.

Private mediation services also exist, usually at a higher cost. Your family law can attend and represent you throughout the mediation. This can be helpful to receive advice on the spot regarding the law relating to your particular matter, your rights and the impact of any proposals. A solicitor can then draft the agreement terms on the day if it is appropriate, usually to be formalised soon after.

Going to Court is not usually a preferable course of action and is usually an expensive one.  Mediation gives you the opportunity to come to an acceptable resolution swiftly and in a cost-effective way.

 

When isn’t mediation appropriate?

 

Sometimes, mediation isn’t an appropriate course of action, particularly in circumstances involving family violence. In such cases, the support of a lawyer can assist in effectively dealing with challenging cases to ensure your interests are protected.  If there are allegations of abuse, your lawyer can advise whether the case should proceed in Court instead of with a mediator.

 

Should I seek legal advice before going into child custody mediation?

 

The most effective mediation happens when both parties have sought legal advice about their individual circumstance beforehand.  You are much more likely to be prepared, to understand the probable outcomes, your options and how a Court might deal with your matter.  By figuring this out in advance, and understanding your legal position, both parties are more likely to be more informed and will have considered in advance of negotiations what they are or aren’t willing to compromise on.

Your lawyer can come to mediation sessions and advise you as the session progresses.  Sometimes mediation can become heated or tense when sensitive and important issues are addressed and having your lawyer with you ensures you have your say and your interests and those of your children are prioritised throughout.

 

How to approach mediation

 

Preparation is key to effective mediation.  With the support of your lawyer, you can approach mediation with more of an open mind, ready to listen and to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement.  Remember to keep your children and their best interests in mind and be aware of the impact of conflict on them.  Importantly, it’s best to approach mediation as a place to solve parenting problems rather than bring up any other marital issues.

Mediation isn’t always smooth sailing, but by remembering that you are there to find a solution for your children and listening to the advice of your lawyer and guidance of the mediator, you are much more likely to reach a settlement that works for both of you.

 

What can be resolved in mediation?

 

The most common topics that are discussed and resolved in child custody mediation are things like living arrangements or relocation, child support, health issues, education and religion, how time will be split between parents and how school holidays will be spent, overseas travel and the division of payments for things like after-school activities.

 

What is the process of mediation?

 

When a mediator is appointed, each parent is normally invited to a pre-mediation meeting separately to establish whether the case is suitable for child custody mediation.  If you have appointed a lawyer, they will advise you whether this is the case and what available options there are.

Both parties can then be asked to prepare a short statement to bring to the initial session, outlining what you hope to achieve from mediation.

Each mediation session can run for a shorter period, such as around three hours, or even a full day.  In some cases, it can take a number of sessions to resolve some of the more significant issues.  This is obviously expedited if both parties come prepared and willing to compromise.

If no agreement can be reached in mediation, then a certificate will be issued by the mediator.  Either parent can then file for parenting proceedings in the Court.  Such a certificate will also be issued if a genuine effort isn’t made by one parent to resolve the dispute, if a parent fails to attend or for another relevant reason.

 

I am considering child custody mediation, what should my next steps be?

 

Where possible, it would be prudent to speak to a family lawyer that can help you to understand your options prior to appointing a mediator.  Daykin Family Law is expertly skilled in children’s and parenting matters including child custody mediation, and work closely with psychologists, social workers and mediators to help you and your family stay out of Court wherever possible.  We can recommend a suitable mediator for your matter and assist in inviting the other parent to mediation.

At Daykin Family Law, we place a high importance on assisting clients to reduce conflict and maintain respect in the co-parenting relationship after separation as much as possible.  Shannon Daykin is an experienced Family and Divorce Lawyer.  An Accredited Family Law Specialist, Shannon was recently named as a Leading Family & Divorce Lawyer (Recommended, Brisbane) and Leading Parenting & Children’s Matters Lawyer (Recommended, Queensland) in the prestigious Doyle’s Guide 2018 and 2019.  In 2019, Daykin Family Law was named in the Doyle’s Guide as a Leading Family & Divorce Law Firm (Recommended).

We give you expert legal advice on the most appropriate and cost-effective course of action for you and your family.  Contact us on (07) 3338 5645 to make an appointment for a fixed fee initial consultation today.