Whether married , civil partners or not, parents have a legal duty to financially support their children. If you separate or divorce, these obligations will generally form part of either the separation / divorce proceedings or alternatively, separate maintenance proceedings can be brought
This article explains maintenance in more detail, including commonly asked questions about the topic.
Children’s maintenance overview
The maintenance one partner pays to the other will ensure that the child or children are not financially disadvantaged by the separation or divorce. The amount involved varies but is usually paid until the child reaches the age of 18.
This is extended to the age of 23 if the child is in full-time education. There is no age ceiling for children with mental or physical disabilities creating long-term dependency.
Spousal maintenance overview
This is financial support one spouse pays to the other if during their marriage or civil partnership they become financially dependent. For example, if they ended their career to support their partner or to provide full-time childcare.
It is usually paid until the spouse becomes financially independent , an example of this is a remarriage or until they die. Spousal maintenance is separate from child maintenance.
Does maintenance have to be court mandated?
When a relationship ends, it is possible for a couple to reach a voluntary agreement on both child and spouse maintenance arrangements. This is always preferable if possible however, family law by its very nature does not always allow for agreement to be reached and therefore more often than not, an application to court is required for maintenance.
What is a maintenance order?
Either partner can apply for a maintenance order. This is a way of verifying an informal agreement or of reaching a settlement when you can’t agree between yourselves.
When making an application for spousal or children’s maintenance in Ireland, you would make an application (generally to the District Court)
At the court hearing, the financial status of both parties will be considered, as well as the continuing financial needs of a child, children or dependent spouse. Then, the court will decide on what they deem to be a fair amount of maintenance.
What happens if a maintenance order is ignored?
If someone refuses to pay maintenance, you can bring enforcement proceedings. There are a number of options with the most common being an attachment of earnings order. This allows for maintenance to be paid directly from the individual’s earnings (via their employer) or pension.
There is also legislation that gives the Court the power to declare a failure to pay is in breach of a court order and therefore is contempt of court, which could result in imprisonment.
Can you change your mind and ask for maintenance?
There is no ‘end date’ to when you can apply for child or spousal maintenance in Ireland. Even if a separation agreement or divorce includes reference to no maintenance, either party can change their mind. Under Irish law, you can apply for a maintenance order, or a variation of an existing order, if your circumstances change.
Variations to the order are often part of periodic reviews to make sure that the amount of maintenance is still correct.
Is a solicitor needed for maintenance orders?
You can try to reach an informal maintenance agreement privately or represent yourself in court. However, it’s highly recommended that you engage an experienced family law solicitor.
Their experience and insight will ensure the best result for you when bringing or defending a maintenance order.
How often is maintenance paid?
Generally there is agreement in the payment but if not the court will decide on what it feels is the most practical way for spousal or children’s maintenance to be paid. This involves a timetable for the payments, such as weekly, monthly or fortnightly. Alternatively, it can involve a lump sum.
Access, custody v maintenance
A common misconception is child maintenance is bound up with custody arrangements.
The proportion of time the child spends with each partner is considered, to ensure the primary caregiver is financially supported. However, paying children’s maintenance in Ireland does not bring with it any legal rights to have access to a child. This is a separate application entirely.
Nor can you refuse to pay children’s maintenance to negotiate changes in your access or custody arrangements.