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Definitions on the web:
In a divorce or separation, the money paid by one spouse to the other in order to fulfil the financial obligation that comes with marriage. The support which one person, who is bound by law to do so, gives to another for his living; for example, a father is bound to find maintenance for his children; and a child is required by law to maintain his father or mother when they cannot support themselves, and he has ability to maintain them.
Separate maintenance is a decree requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse under a separation agreement. A judgment ordering separate maintenance is governed by state laws, which vary by state. For example, in Michigan, which doesn't have legal separation statutes, the order grants a divorce from bed and board but not from the bonds of matrimony. Marital property will be divided and the court may order spousal support. Separate maintenances payments are included as gross income of the recipient for federal tax purposes.
Maintenance in family law refers to alimony or spousal support. Maintenance is an order of a court for the support of one spouse by the other spouse. State law, which varies by state, governs the award of maintenance to a spouse. On application of either party for spousal support, the court may decree an increase or decrease only upon a showing of a substantial and material change of circumstances.
In situations where parents or spouses/civil partners are separated, they can make informal agreements regarding maintenance. This can work well where both parties are reasonable and fair - but it is difficult to assess informally how much maintenance should be paid. You might consider sitting down and writing out the actual expenses (weekly, monthly, etc.). If you find it difficult to come to an arrangement which satisfies both parties, you may find that mediation can help. Alternatively, each side can engage their own legal advice who will act as negotiator of an agreement. Both parties can then sign this agreement which can later be made a rule of court. A rule of court means that these agreements have the same effect as a maintenance order (see below). A solicitor cannot act for both sides in this situation, given that there may be conflicts of interest.
Informal agreements such as this can include a property transfer or a lump sum payment but it cannot rule out the possibility of applying for a maintenance order through the courts in the future.