The breakup of a relationship may leave one of the parties unable to be self-supporting. Both spousal support and maintenance are payments made on a periodic basis by the higher income spouse to the lower income spouse to allow him or her to maintain a certain standard of living. If the parties are married, the payments are called spousal support and are ordered by the Family Court. If spousal support is ordered, it continues until the parties agree to terminate it (either in writing or on the record in open court), the issuance of a judgment of divorce or other order in a matrimonial action, or the death of either party.
Once a divorce action is commenced, payments are referred to as maintenance. The duration of maintenance depends on the length of the marriage and other factors discussed further in a subsequent section of this Guide.