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Spousal Maintenance - How much and for how long?

When a relationship breaks down one of the first questions people ask is whether they will have to pay ongoing maintenance to their former spouse or civil partner.

There is no formula based on the length of the relationship or ages of the couple and, instead, the answer will depend on the specific facts of each relationship.  An individual assessment based on a checklist including needs and resources available will need to be undertaken by family lawyers in order to give realistic advice.

The Court has a duty in all cases to consider a clean break.  This would end a person’s financial obligations as soon as the Decree Absolute was pronounced.  There are three types of Maintenance Orders:

Joint lives – this continues until either person dies, further Order of the Court or until the recipient remarries/enters into a civil partnership.  Either person can apply to the Court at any time to vary the maintenance upwards or downwards if there is a change in circumstances.  It is also possible to apply for maintenance to be capitalised which would mean the recipient would receive a lump sum in exchange for a clean break.

Term – the payments continue for a set number of years and can be varied or capitalised during that Term.  The recipient may also apply to the Court before the Term expires for the Term to be extended.  This would only be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Term with a bar – this means that the Term Maintenance Order cannot be extended.

How much?

The level of maintenance will largely depend on respective needs.  Each person must compile a schedule of their anticipated future outgoings which will then be scrutinised as part of a checklist.  There is no automatic right to an equal share of income unless a person’s needs so dictate.  Often the amount and duration of maintenance necessitate a complex balancing exercise in order to achieve fairness whilst at the same time promote financial independence.  In recent years there has been a marked increase in cases in which Courts agree maintenance only for a limited period rather than the indefinite settlements that have been common in the past.

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