An Overview of Spousal Maintenance

Spousal Maintenance

When a marriage or civil partnership comes to an end, there are many things to consider, including the divorce financial settlement and financial support. One possible outcome of the divorce financial settlement is an agreement to pay ongoing spousal maintenance. In this article, we will explore what spousal maintenance is, how it is calculated, what factors are taken into consideration and what are the alternative options.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

It is a form of financial support paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce or separation. It is intended to help the receiving spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living following a divorce. Spousal maintenance is often used when one half of the divorcing couple has been financially dependent on their partner during the marriage.

It’s important to note that spousal maintenance is separate from child maintenance, which is paid to support any children of the marriage.

How is it Calculated?

There is no set formula for calculating spousal maintenance in the UK. It is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the needs of the receiving spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to provide support.

The court will consider various factors when determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, including:

  • The income, earning capacity, property, and other financial resources of each spouse
  • The financial needs, obligations, and responsibilities of each spouse
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the couple during the marriage
  • The age of each spouse and the duration of the marriage
  • Any physical or mental disabilities of either spouse
  • The contributions and sacrifices made by each spouse to the marriage, including caring for children and homemaking
  • Any significant changes in circumstances, such as a change in income or health

There are certain situations where a court may be unlikely to award spousal maintenance. These include:

  • Financial Independence: If both spouses are financially independent and have similar earning capacities, the court may be less likely to award spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is typically intended to help the financially dependent spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce.
  • Short-Term Marriage: In cases where the marriage was of short duration, the court may be less inclined to award spousal maintenance. The duration of the marriage is an important factor in determining the need for ongoing financial support.
  • Equal Division of Assets: If the court determines that the division of assets is already fair and equitable, it may be less likely to award spousal maintenance. The court aims to achieve a fair distribution of assets and financial resources between the divorcing spouses.
  • Financial Misconduct: If one spouse has engaged in financial misconduct, such as hiding assets or dissipating marital funds, the court may be less likely to award spousal maintenance. Financial misconduct can impact the court’s decision regarding financial support.
  • Cohabitation or Remarriage: If the receiving spouse enters into a new cohabiting relationship or remarries, the court may terminate or reduce spousal maintenance. This is because the financial support provided by the new partner may alleviate the need for ongoing financial support.

It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the court’s decision regarding spousal maintenance will depend on the specific circumstances and evidence presented.

Types of Spousal Maintenance

There are two types of spousal maintenance: ongoing and lump sum.

Ongoing Maintenance

Ongoing maintenance is paid on a regular basis, usually monthly, until a specific event occurs, such as the receiving spouse remarrying or the death of either spouse. It can also be paid for a set period of time. It’s very important to note that whatever is agreed by the Court is not guaranteed forever. Spousal maintenance can be changed at any point if there is a significant change in circumstances.

Some examples of what may trigger ongoing spousal maintenance payments to change include:

  • Change in income: If the paying spouse experiences a significant change in income, such as losing their job it may impact their ability to continue making the same level of spousal maintenance payments. On the other hand if they receive a substantial increase in salary there may be justification to increase spousal maintenance. Any change in income can be a valid reason to request a modification of the payment amount from either party.
  • Remarriage or cohabitation: In some cases, spousal maintenance payments may be terminated or reduced if the receiving spouse remarries or enters a new cohabiting relationship. This is because the financial support provided by the new partner may alleviate the need for ongoing spousal maintenance.
  • Retirement: When the paying spouse reaches retirement age and their income decreases, they may request a modification of spousal maintenance payments. The Court will consider the reduced income and the receiving spouse’s financial situation to determine if a change in the payment amount is necessary.
  • Health issues: If either spouse experiences a significant change in health that affects their ability to work or earn income, it may be a reason to modify spousal maintenance payments. For example, if the paying spouse becomes disabled and can no longer work, they may request a reduction in payments.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 enables the Court to vary upward or downward the amount payable under a Spousal Maintenance Order or extend the length of time for which maintenance is payable. When one half of the couple requests a reassessment it’s really important to speak to a family law solicitor to ensure your rights are protected and that any reassessment creates a fair outcome.

Lump Sum Maintenance

Lump sum maintenance is a one-time payment made to the receiving spouse. It is often used to provide a clean break between the couple and avoid ongoing financial ties. This type of maintenance is usually paid from the assets of the marriage, such as the family home or investments.

We cover the Lump Sum Order in more detail in another article however, in brief, there are several benefits with a Lump Sum Order:

  • Clean Break: A lump sum payment allows for a clean break between the divorcing couple, as it avoids ongoing financial ties. Once the payment is made, there is no need for further financial support or maintenance payments.
  • Certainty: With a lump sum order, both parties know exactly how much money will be exchanged, and there is no need to worry about future changes in circumstances affecting the amount or duration of spousal maintenance. This provides a sense of financial certainty and stability.
  • Flexibility: The receiving spouse has the freedom to use the lump sum payment as they see fit. They can invest it, use it to purchase a new home, pay off debts, or meet any other financial needs they may have. This flexibility allows for greater control over their financial future.
  • Avoiding Court Proceedings: Opting for a Lump Sum Orders can help avoid lengthy court proceedings and potential disputes over ongoing spousal maintenance. By reaching an agreement on a one-time payment, the divorcing couple can save time, money, and emotional stress.

Working towards a Clean Break Order, where possible, does tend to be the Courts preferred option. However, it’s also recognised that a clean break is not always possible, or suitable in all circumstances.

Can spousal maintenance be paid before the divorce is finalised?

If you are separated and not yet divorced it’s possible that one half of the marriage will need immediate financial support in the form of spousal maintenance. The good news is that spousal maintenance can be paid before the divorce is finalised. In fact, it is quite common for temporary spousal maintenance to be awarded during the divorce process to ensure that the receiving spouse has financial support while the divorce is ongoing. This temporary maintenance is usually based on the needs of the receiving spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to provide support. However, it’s important to note that the final determination of spousal maintenance will be made as part of the divorce settlement and may be adjusted accordingly.

Time Limits for Spousal Maintenance

There is no specific time limit for when an application for spousal maintenance can be made post-divorce unless the financial settlement has been negotiated and a Clean Break Order has been issued. In the absence of a Clean Break Order, there is no time limit, but it is recommended to make the application as soon as possible. If a significant amount of time has passed since the divorce, the Court may be less inclined to award spousal maintenance. Although, if the former couple had an informal agreement which has come to an end because of a dispute, the Court may intervene to legally enforce the spousal maintenance payments.

What if Spousal Maintenance is not Paid?

If spousal maintenance is not paid, there can be legal consequences for the spouse who fails to make the payments. The receiving spouse can apply to the court to enforce the Spousal Maintenance Order. The Court has the power to take various enforcement measures, such as issuing a judgment against the non-paying spouse, garnishing their wages, or placing a charge on their property.

Take Legal Advice

Taking legal advice on spousal maintenance is important for several reasons:

  • Understanding Your Rights: A family law solicitor can help you understand your rights and entitlements when it comes to spousal maintenance and the overall divorce financial settlement. They can explain the legal principles and provide guidance on what you may be entitled to based on your specific circumstances.
  • Assessing Your Options: A legal professional can help you explore all available options for spousal maintenance and the alternatives including a Clean Break Order. They can assess your financial situation, consider the factors that the court will take into account and advise you on the most appropriate course of action.
  • Protecting Your Interests: A family law solicitor can advocate for your interests and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the spousal maintenance process. They can help you gather the necessary evidence, present your case effectively, and negotiate fair terms that take into account your financial needs and obligations.
  • Enforcing Spousal Maintenance: If your ex-spouse fails to make the spousal maintenance payments as ordered by the Court, a family law solicitor can assist you in enforcing the order. They can help you take the necessary legal steps to ensure that you receive the financial support you are entitled to, such as applying for enforcement measures or seeking a variation of the order.

Tyrer Roxburgh Can Help

The team of family law solicitors at Tyrer Roxburgh are here to guide you through all aspects of divorce including the financial settlement. We are compassionate, empathetic and passionate about protecting our clients’ interests.

We pride ourselves on being friendly and approachable so if you need advice from one of our friendly solicitors, please do get in touch by calling 0208 889 3319 or via one of the options below.

The first introductory call is free and enables you to outline your circumstances and for us to explain how we can help. Our team are friendly and approachable and are always happy to answer your questions.

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