What is Spousal Maintenance in South Africa?

Spousal maintenance is maintenance paid by a spouse to his/her (soon-to-be) ex-spouse, in terms of a Court Order, or to a former spouse following a divorce decree.

It is important to remember that neither spouse has an automatic right to spousal maintenance upon divorce. This is because the reciprocal duty of maintenance between spouses comes to an end when the marriage ends unless there is an agreement or court order to the contrary.

The Court has a general discretion to make an award in respect of spousal maintenance if it believes that it will be fair in the circumstances. However, in many uncontested divorces (by agreement), the parties strive towards a clean break, steering away from spousal maintenance arrangements.

Spousal maintenance is also known as alimony or spousal support, depending on your country. But in South Africa, we call it Spousal Maintenance and it is different from child maintenance.

Spousal Maintenance – Factors to Consider

In cases where the parties cannot reach an agreement, Section 7(2) of the Divorce Act stipulates that the Court may make any maintenance order by taking into consideration the following factors:

  • The existing or expected means/wealth of each of the parties,
  • Their respective earning capacities,
  • Their financial needs and obligations,
  • Their ages,
  • The duration of the marriage,
  • Their standard of living prior to divorce,
  • Behaviour/conduct (if relevant to the breakdown of the marriage) and
  • Any other factor which the Court feels has to be taken into account.

Types of Spousal Maintenance

  1. Permanent or Lifelong Maintenance is payable from the date of divorce and usually on a monthly basis until such time as the receiver of the spousal maintenance passes away or vice versa. (If circumstances of any/both of the parties change drastically after divorce, the Court may be approached to vary or even discharge the maintenance order accordingly.)
  2. Rehabilitative Maintenance is for a specific, fixed period only. The fixed period cannot be shortened or extended. Occurs when a spouse for example stayed at home to look after the children and did not work for the duration of the marriage. He or she would be entitled to maintenance for a period of about two years to assist the spouse to obtain training and enter the job market and become gainfully employed.
  3. Token Maintenance is when a small amount of (for example) R1 per month as maintenance is ordered. This usually happens when the maintenance payer is not in a financial position to afford maintenance at the time of divorce, or the claimant does not need maintenance for the moment, but there is a good chance that the maintenance payer might be in a better financial position in the future, or that the claimant will need maintenance in the future. This will put the receiver of this (token) maintenance in a position to approach the Court at a later stage to ask for a variation of the maintenance order for more maintenance if he/she can prove the need and affordability in the light of improved financial circumstances of the maintenance payer.
  4. Interim Maintenance in terms of Rule 58 (Magistrate’s Court) and Rule 43 (High Court) is maintenance payable pending divorce litigation. A special application is necessary before the Court will grant such an order.

Need Help With Spousal Maintenance?

We are available to help you with any matters that relate to family law and spousal maintenance. Contact your East Rand Family Law Lawyers today to request a consultation. We service the entire Gauteng area.