Many clients I meet for the first time enquiring about divorce do not realize that they may be called upon not only to pay maintenance for their children, but also for their spouse. In respect of child maintenance unless maintenance payments are agreed, or ordered to be paid, during third tier education, those will cease when the children leave full time education otherwise or upon them attaining 19 years whichever the earlier.

In respect of spousal maintenance the term this is payable is not necessarily finite unless the payee remarries when payments would cease automatically. Further, unless any final order was expressed that maintenance payments cease upon the other spouses co-habitation, it is likely that payments would still have to continue – unfair many would argue.

If it is possible to agree a “clean break” order, or in the absence of agreement the court decides that such order is appropriate, then the question is, spousal maintenance: how much? And for how long?

As to quantification, the answer will depend on the relative earning capacities of the parties both now and in the future, and on needs and resources. There is no set formula for working this out. The amount ordered may not be fixed – both parties would be able to apply for the downward and upward variation of the amount paid should their financial circumstances change in the future.

The term could be for a defined duration (agreed or imposed by the court) to enable the payee to adjust financially or obtain more lucrative employment during that period, or until the youngest child. On the other hand, there could be what every payer spouse may dread – a joint lives order whereby maintenance would be payable until the first to die of the parties.

A recent case of Murphy puts joint lives maintenance orders very much back in focus, and refused to make a term order. Despite the wife having earned £30,000 pa before having children (3 years ago) and showing willing to return to work as and when she could juggle child care with employment, the court decided that her situation was too precarious, depended financially on her husband currently and this could turn out to be a longer term position.

This case possibly heralds more joint lives maintenance orders being made moving forward which may be a concern for those who have financially dependent spouses – even if the parties are relatively young and it is a short marriage.

If you are contemplating divorce and have concerns about spousal maintenance contact Anita Garside of Ringrose Law is a Member of the Law Society Accreditation Scheme, and of Resolution, and would be pleased to give you advice.

Contact Anita on 01636 594460 or contact another member of our team at our offices in Boston, Grantham, Lincoln, Sleaford, Spalding and Newark.

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