Maintenance can be sought by a spouse in respect of himself or herself and/or in respect of any dependent child either as a stand alone application pursuant to the provisions of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 as amended, or as ancillary relief to an order for judicial separation or divorce. A third party can apply to court to obtain an order directing a parent to provide maintenance for a dependent child or children.

A court will determine an application for maintenance having regard to the needs and resources of the person for whom the maintenance is sought and also those of the person who is being asked to pay the maintenance. Maintenance can be directed to be paid by way of a periodic order, which is that a person pays so much per week or per month or by way of a lump sum, or by a combination of both methods.

The District and Circuit Courts have jurisdiction to hear stand alone maintenance applications, but the amount which can be awarded by the District Court is limited while the amount which can be awarded by the Circuit Court is unlimited. In the case of periodic maintenance the maximum award which can be made by the District Court for a spouse is €500 per week and for each dependent child €150 per week. The maximum amount of a lump sum is €6,348.69. If a case is commenced and determined in the District Court there is a right of appeal to the Circuit Court where a full rehearing will take place. If a case is commenced and determined in the Circuit Court there is a right of appeal to the High Court where again a full rehearing will take place.

A court can direct that maintenance payments should be made to the District Court office who can then take steps if necessary to enforce the order. Enforcement procedures can include an Attachment of Earnings Order, whereby the court directs a certain sum to be deducted by the employer from the wages of the maintenance debtor and to be sent to the court office so that it can be forwarded to the maintenance creditor. In extreme cases a court can direct a person to be committed to prison for failure to comply with the provisions of a maintenance order.

A maintenance order is enforceable throughout the European Union pursuant to Council Regulation No 44/2001 and may be enforceable in other countries if they have mutual enforcement procedures with Ireland.