Bishop & Sewell

Spousal maintenance orders are an issue in many divorces. Here, Philip Rutter explains how the courts approach maintenance orders and when they will be awarded.

There are many misconceptions surrounding maintenance orders because of the range of orders that can be made, if one should be made at all. It is not just the amount of maintenance that should be payable, but for how long, whether there should be a step down during the term and whether it is possible to apply to extend the term. In all cases, the court has to consider whether there should be a clean break and where possible, one must be ordered.

Spousal maintenance is not the same as child maintenance. Child maintenance, in the majority of cases, is dealt with outside of the courts either by agreement or by the Child Maintenance Service who have to apply a statutory formula. In cases where the paying parent is a very high earner, then the courts can order ‘top up’ child maintenance.

There is no set formula in determining spousal maintenance – one has to look at the personal and financial circumstances of the individuals involved.

In cases where a spousal maintenance order is made, it is usually for a fixed term to give time for the financially weaker party to manage their finances with an expectation that they will move to a stage where they have financial independence.

Where one spouse is not working, perhaps having put their career on hold to raise children or to run the family home, spousal maintenance orders will reflect the financial needs of that spouse, but still expect that individual to eventually find their own financial feet. Where there are children, a spousal maintenance order is very unlikely to continue beyond the end of the children’s secondary schooling.

Confusion and disagreements can often arise when a spouse expects a maintenance order to meet the standard of living enjoyed during their marriage. In many instances there is simply not enough income to maintain two fully independent equivalent lifestyles at the level enjoyed during the marriage. The courts will expect each party to ’cut their cloth’ in line with the income available. In very high income cases, the recipient of spousal maintenance will receive maintenance to meet their reasonable needs, no more.

Personal and financial affairs can change and a spousal maintenance order can always be varied. While the process to vary spousal maintenance is a little less cumbersome than a full-blown financial application, it still involves consideration of the same principles.

Taking specialist legal advice will help in reaching agreement on spousal maintenance payments.


Contact our Family and Divorce Teams

The Family and Divorce at Bishop & Sewell have a wealth of experience in dealing with divorce and separation, including all financial aspects.

For initial advice or to arrange a meeting with one of our team, please email or contact 020 7631 4141 and ask to speak to our Family Law team.

The above is accurate as at 17 April 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice. Each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 17th Apr 2024

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