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Spousal Maintenance

More often than not there are financial issues to be resolved following the breakdown of a marriage. In many cases these will involve the division of the realisable assets (for example the former family home, other properties, savings, investments and so forth) of the marriage; consideration of each spouse’s potential claims against the other’s pension arrangement; and whether one spouse should pay monthly maintenance to the other (in cases where that spouse’s income is significantly greater than the other’s).

The Court can make “open ended” spousal maintenance orders (or periodical payments as they are called), which will continue until either the payee remarries or until the payer successfully applies to the Court for a reduction or termination of the payments; or a “term” Order, i.e. an Order that the payments be made for a specific period of time (for example 18 months, three years, five years etc). A term Order made with a “bar” means that at the end of that term the payments will automatically cease, with the payee being barred from applying for an extension of the term; if the Order has no bar, then before the Order expires the payee can apply to the Court for the Order to continue for a further period of time.

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Over the past few years the Court has tended to favour the making of open ended maintenance Orders, particularly in cases where the spouse receiving the payments has the care of children and cannot be expected to become self supporting until quite some time in the future. In certain cases this has lead to spouses to believing that they have a meal ticket for life in the form of their ex partners providing them with maintenance for an indefinite period of time.

Case May Affect Future of Spousal Maintenance Claims

A case which has recently been decided by the Courts may well affect the way in which spousal maintenance claims (and indeed financial claims in general) are dealt with in the future. In this case the Wife (who is 51 years old) chose not to work following the breakdown of the marriage in 2008. The financial provision Order made by the Court at the time resulted in the wife coming away with a £450,000.00 mortgage free house together with stabling for her horse and her daughters’ ponies; and in addition the Husband was ordered to pay the daughters’ school fees together with maintenance for the Wife and the daughters, the maintenance to include spousal maintenance of £33,200 per annum.

The Wife, who had previously worked as a legal secretary and a riding instructor, argued that it was unreasonable for her to be expected to obtain work, as she had to care for the youngest daughter (now aged 10) before and after school and during school holidays. The Husband submitted that it was unfair for him to be expected to keep supporting his ex wife indefinitely even after his planned retirement at the age of 65, while she had made “no effort whatsoever to seek work”.

The Court agreed with the Husband’s view point, the Judge indicating that divorced women should go out and find a job rather than rely on payments from their (albeit) wealthy Husbands to fund “a life of leisure”. The Judge expressed the opinion that ex-wives (and of course the reverse situation would apply to ex-Husbands) with children over the age of 7 should seek and be able to obtain at least part time work, so as to reduce the Husbands obligation to fund the whole of the ex-Wife’s monthly expenditure.

End of Generous Payments

This decision is likely to bring to an end the making of generous spousal maintenance payments which have been a feature of high net worth divorce cases in the past, and may herald a shift towards the making of term maintenance Orders rather than open ended Orders in the future.

The Wife was refused leave to appeal.