Spousal support in Australia

Spousal support in Australia

A study of incidence and attitudes

Juliet Behrens and Bruce Smyth

Working Paper No. 16 — February 1999

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There has been some discussion over the last several years about whether there is likely to be any change in the very low levels of payment and receipt of spousal support that have been found to exist in Australia. Intermingled with the descriptive and predictive questions (What is happening? What is likely to happen?) are normative questions (What should happen?), and there is a continuing lively debate both in Australia and overseas about whether and in what circumstances there should be entitlements to spousal support. However, there has been little empirical evidence with which to inform this debate.

The data presented in this working paper are drawn from the Australian Divorce Transition Project, a random national telephone survey of 650 divorced Australians. This survey, conducted in late 1997 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, sought to measure, among other things, the incidence, duration and amount of spousal support payments or receipts. It also sought to ascertain respondents' attitudes about whether, and for how long, spousal support should be payable.

The data suggest that periodic spousal support continues to be rare, minimal and brief and that patterns of payment and receipt vary according to gender. One in ten respondents, however, reported a property transfer as spousal support. Our analysis identifies some of the personal circumstances that appear to contribute to the payment or receipt of periodic spousal support.

Reflecting the highly contested rationales for the imposition of spousal support obligations, the divorced population is roughly evenly divided on the question of whether spousal support should ever be payable. This study identifies several factors that appear to influence attitudes towards spousal support.

The legal and policy implications of these findings are discussed and further research agendas are identified in this paper.

Authors and Acknowledgements

This working paper is dedicated to Dr Kathleen Funder, whose untimely death is a great loss to family studies in Australia. Kate conceptualised the paper and was responsible for the larger Australian Divorce Transition Project on which it is based.

We are especially grateful to the hundreds of respondents who volunteered much personal information about themselves and their post-divorce circumstances. Most respondents did so in the hope that this information would make a difference to the lives of others.

The professional and sensitive telephone interviewers at Roy Morgan Research also deserve thanks, as does Ross Galloway for his impeccable CATI (Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing) programming. We would also like to thank Sarah Byrnes and Bruce Packard at Roy Morgan Research for overseeing the data collection process.

We are also indebted to several staff at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Grania Sheehan has overseen the Australian Divorce Transition Project since Kathleen Funder became ill, while Ruth Weston and Christine Kilmartin have provided helpful advice on a range of conceptual and methodological issues. We are also grateful to Jody Hughes for the substantial amount of programming that she did for key components of the data set.

Finally, we would like to thank Professor John Dewar (Griffith University) and Dr Trevor Batrouney and Grania Sheehan (both from the Australian Institute of Family Studies) for providing useful comments on the final draft of the paper. We, of course, are responsible for any shortcomings in the paper.

Publication details

Working Paper
No. 16
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 1999.
40 pp.
0 642 39458 X
Suggested citation:

Behrens, J., & Smyth, B. (1999). Spousal support in Australia: A study of incidence and attitudes (Working Paper No. 16). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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