When a couple divorce or dissolve their civil partnership, one party may agree to pay the other a lump sum and/or ongoing spousal maintenance payments as part of the financial settlement.
There is no automatic right to these ongoing payments. Whether spousal maintenance is payable, and how much and for how long, is determined by the couple’s financial needs and income. The maintenance payment may also be determined by the couple’s length of marriage or partnership and the existence of children.
David Connor, director and family law specialist at WHN Solicitors, explains when and why a spousal maintenance is agreed as part of a financial settlement during divorce proceedings.
What is spousal maintenance?
When a couple divorce or separate, part of the financial settlement is to ensure, as far as possible, both parties can continue to maintain a reasonable standard of living. If there is quite a disparity between their level of earnings or not enough money in the ‘pot’ to ensure a clean break between them, an ongoing payment arrangement may be required to achieve this.
Spousal maintenance is therefore the agreed amount, either between the two parties or awarded by the courts. It is payable in addition to any child maintenance and must be paid by the spouse with the higher income to their ex-spouse.
When is spousal maintenance paid?
A priority for the court during divorce proceedings is to see if a financial settlement can be achieved as a clean break with no further payments required to either party.
Should a clean break not be possible, the spousal maintenance is designed to cover the reasonable needs of the party over a specified period to enable the recipient to financially adjust.
A party’s reasonable needs can be open to interpretation but will be influenced by the standard of living that existed within the marriage.
The maintenance is usually paid monthly and continues either for a fixed period (for example a specified term of years) or for the remainder of the parties’ life (which is known as a ‘joint lives order’).
Joint lives orders are less common in current financial settlements and usually occur only if ending a maintenance payment may cause unnecessary hardship to the recipient.
Spousal maintenance can be interim and payable during the financial remedy proceedings and may then continue for a longer term afterwards if necessary.
When and why does a spousal maintenance end?
As the aim of a spousal maintenance is to provide support to the recipient and ensure they are not left in financial hardship, the maintenance payments may be altered or dismissed by the courts if there is a change in the recipient’s circumstances.
It also ends if the recipient remarries, or if either party dies. It does not necessarily end if the recipient enters a co-habiting arrangement.
Spousal maintenance is often a complicated part of a divorcing couple’s financial matters. Early advice should be sought to determine whether you may be required to pay spousal maintenance to your ex-partner or are entitled to receive it.
David Connor is a director based at WHN’s Rawtenstall office. He leads a team of specialist family lawyers, helping individuals on all areas of family law including complex financial cases including pre-nuptial agreements, financial settlements in divorce and separation.
If you need help on a divorce and finances matter, our specialist solicitors are here to help. Please contact David on 01706 225621 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org