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Guideline for family problems / RESOLVING: 3.4 Providing non-permanent spousal maintenance

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify the following interventions for spousal maintenance:
1. Non-permanent spousal maintenance
2. Rehabilitative spousal maintenance
3. Limited duration spousal maintenance
4. Permanent spousal maintenance

Rehabilitative spousal maintenance provides a former spouse with support for a limited period of time to allow for the development of the skills, training, or education necessary for self-support. It presupposes the existence of a future capacity for self-support (Greene, p. 9) and is designed to improve the recipient’s employment prospects (Shehan et al, p. 310).

Limited duration spousal maintenance (also known as transitional support) is periodic maintenance or terminable maintenance; an amount regularly paid to a recipient for a fixed period. This form of maintenance is meant as a financial buffer to help the former spouse become self-supporting during the period of transition from married life. If the recipient is not self-supporting and cannot become so, limited duration alimony may not be awarded. Limited duration spousal maintenance is not modifiable and cannot be discontinued even if the recipient remarries within the repayment period (Shehan et al, p. 310).

Permanent spousal maintenance is awarded as the primary source of support for the recipient (Greene, p. 9). A modification is permitted upon showing a change in the circumstances of the parties. If a spouse who has been awarded permanent alimony subsequently becomes self-sufficient, termination or reduction of the permanent alimony award normally follows (Greene, p. 14). The duration of a permanent award is generally until the death or remarriage of the recipient. Permanent spousal maintenance is most likely to be provided when the recipient is aged, infirm, or unable to be self-supporting. The amount of the award is based on the level of financial need and the standard of living enjoyed in the marriage (Shehan et al, p.310).

For the purpose of this PICO question, we compare permanent spousal maintenance with the two other forms of nonpermanent spousal maintenance: Limited and rehabilitative spousal maintenance. Limited and rehabilitative spousal maintenance both focus on self-sufficiency, while permanent spousal maintenance does not.

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For separated spouses, is non-permanent spousal maintenance more effective than permanent spousal maintenance post-separation?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, Sabinet, LexisNexis. For this PICO question, keywords/phrases used in the search strategy are: alimony, spousal maintenance, spousal support, divorce, awarding of alimony, income measures.

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

These sources include observational and empirical studies. According to the HiiL Methodology: Assessment of Evidence and Recommendations, the strength of this evidence is classified as ‘moderate’.

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Research shows that efforts by the supported spouse to remain or become self-supporting and independent of the former spouse are favoured. Limited and rehabilitative maintenance focus on the recipient parent becoming selfsufficient (Greene, p. 11; 22-23; Shehan et al, p. 310).

Rehabilitative spousal maintenance is needed particularly for women who entered marriage under a very different set of rules, for example where they abandoned their own jobs and careers to the expected, traditional roles of mother and wife. In those years in which they would have developed job skills and careers. Such women were unable to attain or incapable of attaining self-sufficiency (as cited in Greene, p 13). Rehabilitative spousal maintenance can assist them to develop their own lives.

Spousal maintenance would be appropriate if: 

a) where the recipient abandoned her job and career to fulfill the expected, traditional roles of a mother, wife and hostess… ( as cited in Greene, p. 13)

b) where there are minor children under the age of five and it is not practical for the recipient to generate income in excess of work-related child-care costs, or both parties are committed to one parent remaining home with the child(ren) (Larkin, p. 53).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Permanent spousal maintenance presumes that the recipient cannot become self-sufficient (Greene, p. 9). However, some recipients might come to rely on these payments rather than taking the initiative to obtain additional training or education, a job or resume a career (Shehan et al, p. 309).

Permanent payment might keep alive the hostility. Maintenance could alter the post-marital distribution of power between spouses. For example, when bitterness grows between the separated litigants, one party often seeks to have the other punished for their failure to pay maintenance (Shehan et al, p. 309).

Balance of Outcomes

In determining whether non-permanent spousal maintenance is more effective than permanent spousal maintenance post-separation, the desirable and undesirable outcomes of both interventions must be considered. Permanent spousal maintenance is appropriate only where the recipient is unemployable. Rehabilitative or limited duration spousal maintenance is appropriate in the event of a need for maintenance and should be awarded until the recipient becomes self-sufficient, implicitly requiring the former spouse to make reasonable efforts to become selfsufficient. Accordingly, non-permanent spousal maintenance is more effective than permanent spousal maintenance.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, including, the effect on former spouses’ well-being (in particular selfsufficiency) and the strength of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: Non-permanent spousal maintenance is more effective than permanent spousal maintenance.

Table of Contents

3. Recommendations on RESOLVING
3.4 Providing non-permanent spousal maintenance