Spousal Maintenance is income payable by one spouse or a former spouse to the other which is in addition to any child maintenance.
Many clients find it unpalatable to think that they may have to maintain their former spouse even after a divorce. There is a common law duty imposed upon spouses to support each other whilst the marriage or civil partnership is in existence. This duty continues after separation as a result of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
When parties divorce there is no automatic entitlement to spousal maintenance. However the Matrimonial Causes Act obliges the Court to consider whether a Clean Break Order can be achieved between the parties or whether one party requires maintenance to meet his or her needs. A Clean Break ends financial claims against the other on divorce or dissolution and also upon death. This does not apply to child support.
Unlike the Child Maintenance Service which sets a formula for how maintenance for children is calculated, there is no such formula in relation to Spousal Maintenance. The Court has to consider the ongoing financial needs of the party who is seeking the maintenance. Sometimes a party to the marriage may have no income by virtue of the fact that they are no longer in employment. It is not uncommon for a parent to take a career break to focus on the children, running the household and supporting their spouse. This is fine whilst the marriage subsists but when it is dissolved then if a person has given up a chance of a good income it can be difficult to get back on the work ladder without some kind of financial support.
The amount of Spousal Maintenance will depend on the couples financial needs.
In divorce proceedings both parties have a duty to give full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. This includes a schedule of not only income from all sources but anticipated future outgoings. This will be scrutinised and if for example it is over stated, or exaggerated, then the needs will be paired down.
Spousal Maintenance can be paid for a fixed term, for example, three or five years or until the youngest child of the marriage reaches the age of 18. The Court can make a Joint Lives Order. This means that maintenance is paid until one or the other dies.
The Court can also make a Nominal Order. This is an Order for payment at the rate of 5 pence per annum. This sum is not actually paid but it leaves the door open for a variation application if circumstances change.
Most couples try to achieve a Clean Break Order which specifies that no Spousal Maintenance is paid.
Once the recipient of the Maintenance Order remarries, then the maintenance automatically ends. This is not the case if the recipient co-habits unless the parties have specifically agreed this and it is included in the Maintenance Order.
The objective of Maintenance Orders is to allow the recipient to move towards financial independence to the extent that it is reasonable, bearing in mind the length of the marriage, standard of living, the housing needs of the parties and shared responsibility for children of the family.
There is no hard and fast answer to the question of maintenance. It is always advisable to take specialist legal advice if maintenance is an issue in a divorce or separation.
We can help
At Ringrose Law we have a specialist team of Lawyers who deal exclusively with financial cases and I am accredited by Resolution as a Specialist in financial disputes. Please contact me on 01529 301300 to discuss further.