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What is maintenance?
Spouses / civil partners are required to financially maintain each other having regard to their means and needs. Maintenance is financial support paid by a person for the benefit of their spouse/civil partner/ and / or dependent children.

Can I apply for maintenance from my spouse/civil partner even if I am living with them?
A spouse / civil partner can apply for maintenance even if living with the other spouse/civil partner.

Can I apply for maintenance from my ex-partner if we are not married?
You can normally only apply for maintenance for the support of your children in such circumstances.
However if you are a “qualified cohabitant” you may be able to apply for maintenance for your own support. To be a “qualified cohabitant” you must have lived with your ex-partner for at least two years if you have children or at least five years if you do not. In addition you or your ex-partner cannot be married to someone else, or if either of you are, the person(s) that is (are) married must be living apart from their spouse for at least four of the last five years. See rights of cohabitantsfor further information.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of children?
Both parents, whether married or not, are responsible for the maintenance of their children.

Who can apply for the maintenance of a child?
A parent, legal guardian, the Health Service Executive, or any person holding legal status in relation to a dependent child may apply for maintenance in respect of that child.

A dependent child is:

  • a person under eighteen years;
  • a person under twenty three years who is in full time education; or 
  • a person dependent on his/her parents due to a disability.

What can I do if we cannot agree on maintenance?
In that case, you need to apply to court. You can apply to either the District or Circuit Court. Which court you apply to depends on the amount of maintenance you are looking for.

The District Court
At present, the District Court may award any amount up to €500.00 per week for a spouse / civil partner and €150.00 per week for each child.

The Circuit Court
You must apply to the Circuit Court if you are looking for more than €500.00 for a spouse/civil partner and more than €150.00 per week for each child.

Can both the District and Circuit Court make lump sum orders for maintenance?
Both the District and Circuit Court can make lump sum orders for maintenance although, at present, the District Court cannot make an order for more than €15,000.

How can maintenance be paid?
A maintenance order may require one person to pay maintenance directly to the other person either in cash or to a bank or other account. A court may also order that maintenance be paid to the District Court clerk who then passes it on to the person receiving it. The advantage of this is that, where maintenance is in arrears the District Court clerk will try to enforce payment, rather than the receiving party having to do so.

What can I do if the maintenance due to me is not being paid?
If the maintenance is not paid you can apply to court for:

  • an attachment of earnings order. This can only be made if the paying party is employed. The attachment of earnings order directs his / her employer to deduct the maintenance from his / her earnings and send it to the court clerk or the receiving party; or
  •  an enforcement order for arrears of maintenance. This can be made whether or not the paying party is employed. The court may issue a warrant for the arrest of the paying party if they fail to appear in court after the enforcement proceedings are served on him/her.. The ultimate sanction is that the paying party may be imprisoned if it is proved to the court that he or she is unwilling rather than unable to pay.

Social welfare benefits
If you apply to the Department of Social Protection for social welfare payments, you may be asked by that Department to apply for maintenance, if you are entitled to maintenance, but are not receiving any.

How can maintenance be changed or ended?
A person paying or receiving maintenance may reapply to the court that made the maintenance order for:

  • a variation of the maintenance order i.e, a change in the amount of maintenance, for example, a person might look for a greater amount.
  • discharge of a maintenance order which means ending the obligation to pay. Generally, these applications are made where there has been a change in the paying party’s circumstances since the order was first made. 
  • If the discharge is being applied for because the person paying the maintenance is unable to pay, they will need to prove this to the Court.

The Court may also decide to vary the maintenance when it is dealing with an enforcement application and it is clear that circumstances have changed since the making of the maintenance order.

Is it possible to get maintenance from people living in other countries?
It is possible to get and enforce a maintenance order against people living in certain foreign countries. Further information in relation to such getting maintenance from a spouse or partner who lives abroad can be obtained from your local law centre.