Spousal Main­te­nance

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Travel - Emma WarnEr-rEEd

Q What is spousal main­te­nance?

Spousal main­te­nance is a monthly pay­ment made to you by your for­mer spouse af­ter you are di­vorced. It bears no re­la­tion to child main­te­nance, as it is de­signed to sup­port you and not any chil­dren of the mar­riage.

You can ask for spousal main­te­nance as part of your di­vorce set­tle­ment, if your in­come or as­sets are in­suf­fi­cient to meet your day-to-day needs and you are un­able to sup­port your­self im­me­di­ately af­ter the di­vorce. This might ap­ply if you have a much lower in­come than your ex, or if you have not been work­ing. Q How is spousal main­te­nance cal­cu­lated? Un­like child main­te­nance, there is no set for­mula for cal­cu­lat­ing spousal main­te­nance. The court will sim­ply con­sider the ‘needs’ of your par­tic­u­lar case and from that make a de­ci­sion as to whether you should be paid spousal main­te­nance and, if so, how much and for how long.

What your in­di­vid­ual ‘needs’ are, may be widely in­ter­preted. The court will take into ac­count not only yours and your ex’s avail­able re­sources im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the di­vorce, as weighed against your cur­rent fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments (in­clud­ing the ex­pense of pro­vid­ing for chil­dren), but also the stan­dard of liv­ing you en­joyed dur­ing the mar­riage.

On ac­count of this, the amount of spousal main­te­nance you are given can dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly from case to case – so you should al­ways take spe­cial­ist ad­vice. Q How long will I get spousal main­te­nance for? The court has a duty to give both you and your for­mer spouse a clean break wher­ever pos­si­ble, so they will al­ways seek to bring an end to your fi­nan­cial depen­dence upon your ex quickly, if they can.

If you have been off work be­cause you have been rais­ing chil­dren, the court may or­der spousal main­te­nance for an in­ter­me­di­ate pe­riod of be­tween two and five years, to allow you to re-train or to re-en­ter the work­place. This is called a ‘term or­der’, or ‘term main­te­nance’. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, term or­ders can be ex­tended if cir­cum­stances allow, al­though some­times the court will put a pro­hi­bi­tion on this, so do to check how your or­der is worded.

Al­ter­na­tively, where you have been out of work for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of years, the court may or­der main­te­nance for the pe­riod of you or your for­mer spouse’s life. This is known as ‘joint lives’ main­te­nance. Q Can spousal main­te­nance be var­ied or ended? Spousal main­te­nance ends if you re-marry or if you or your for­mer spouse dies. But it can also be var­ied un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

If you or your ex has a change in in­come, or if your fi­nan­cial needs change, ei­ther party may ap­ply to the court to vary the amount of spousal main­te­nance you are paid. An ap­pli­ca­tion can be made to vary the pay­ment down­ward as well as up­ward, and there is an on­go­ing duty on both par­ties to in­form the other of any ma­te­rial change in their cir­cum­stances.

This means that, if your ex loses their job, they can ap­ply to the court for the main­te­nance or­der to be suspended while they are out of work. Equally, if your earn­ings in­crease suf­fi­ciently it may be that on ap­pli­ca­tion to the court the main­te­nance pay­ments are re­duced or brought to an end al­to­gether. When con­sid­er­ing whether main­te­nance can be ended in this way, the court will con­sider whether you can ad­just with­out un­due hard­ship.

In ad­di­tion, ei­ther party may ap­ply to the court at any time for the main­te­nance to be cap­i­talised. This means that your ex can make a lump sum pay­ment to you, in lieu of reg­u­lar main­te­nance pay­ments. Q What if I co­habit with a new part­ner, or re-marry? Spousal main­te­nance ends when you re-marry, how­ever, it does not automatically end when you co­habit with a new part­ner al­though, again, you will need to look at the terms of your court or­der, as some do pro­vide for this.

One final note on co­hab­i­ta­tion: while spousal main­te­nance will not automatically end when you live with some­body, it may be ap­pro­pri­ate for your main­te­nance to be re­duced or ended in light of your co­hab­i­ta­tion. In this cir­cum­stance, your ex can make an ap­pli­ca­tion to the court for a vari­a­tion or ter­mi­na­tion of your spousal main­te­nance agree­ment. If this hap­pens, you should al­ways take spe­cial­ist le­gal ad­vice.

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