Following a divorce, one spouse might be ordered to pay maintenance to their ex if the split means they cannot now support themselves.
These arrangements often lead to sensational headlines in cases involving celebrities or high-fliers. But Kate Rowley, a solicitor in our Family team, says tabloid stories about so-called ‘meal tickets for life’ may not be giving the whole picture.
Despite what you may have read, spousal maintenance orders are awarded on the basis of need, not to prop up a former partner’s lavish lifestyle. They are calculated by the court to allow a fair settlement tailor-made for each family.
Changes in society mean they are becoming less common. Primarily there is much more expectation that women will go back to work after having children and spousal maintenance still has an important role in bridging the gap to ensure one spouse doesn’t suffer undue hardship due to divorce. Recent cases have shown lifetime orders are also becoming a rarity.
Divorcee Kim Waggot’s attempt to increase a lifetime order backfired after her husband appealed and a High Court judge ruled in his favour that her maintenance payments should stop after just three years.
The court also confirmed her husband’s future earning capacity was not open to sharing. Maintenance payments are determined only by needs.
Where spousal maintenance is ordered it is normally for a set period. For example, a term of two years might allow a wife who has been out of the workplace to retrain and get a job where she will earn a decent salary. It also means the ex-husband knows where he stands.
In some cases, even an order with no term limit is not just appropriate, but absolutely right. Take the case of a spouse who has a serious illness which might mean that their life expectancy is shortened and they will never be able to work.
And of course, If either party feels an order is unfair they can apply to the court to vary it.