Spousal maintenance – What do you need to know?

The concept of spousal maintenance can feel overwhelming for anyone experiencing the emotional and financial challenges of a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

Understanding your rights and obligations is vital, which is why it is highly advisable to consult with an experienced family law solicitor.

They can provide valuable guidance and insights, and explain the law which relates to this area.

Understanding spousal maintenance

Spousal maintenance is financial support paid by one ex-spouse to the other after a divorce or separation. Interim spousal maintenance may also be paid during the course of proceedings and this may be known as Interim Maintenance or Maintenance Pending Suit.

Spousal maintenance is distinct from child support and is intended to assist the lower-income or non-earning spouse in adjusting to their new financial circumstances post-separation.

The purpose of spousal maintenance is to help the recipient spouse meet their needs and to help them adjust financially after separation.

The support varies from temporary assistance during legal proceedings (known as Maintenance Pending Suit) to ongoing maintenance after the divorce (which is known as a Periodical Payments Order).

Are there eligibility criteria?

Eligibility is based on the individual circumstances of the marriage or civil partnership along with the needs of the receiving party balanced against the ability to pay the paying party.

The Court takes into account various factors to determine if maintenance is necessary and the extent of the support that should be provided. These criteria include:

  1. The duration of the marriage or civil partnership.
  2. The standard of living enjoyed during the relationship.
  3. Each person’s financial resources and earning capabilities.
  4. The needs and responsibilities of each party.
  5. Opportunities for achieving financial independence.

Ultimately, the goal is to reach a fair resolution that recognises the contributions made by each party and the economic impact of ending the marriage.

In some cases, this may mean ongoing support, while in others, a one-off settlement or “clean break” could be deemed more appropriate. The court has an obligation to facilitate a clean break if resources allow for that and this would then mean there is no ongoing spousal maintenance.

How can a solicitor help?

Our Family and Relationship team specialises in supporting clients through the legal intricacies of financial matters following the breakdown of a relationship.

They can help in several ways including (but not limited to):

  1. Assessment: Determining eligibility for spousal maintenance and estimating potential amounts based on various factors.
  2. Negotiation: Representing your interests in negotiations with your ex-partner, aiming to reach an amicable agreement that is fair and equitable.
  3. Legal documentation: Drafting and reviewing any agreements to ensure they are legally binding and reflect the terms agreed accurately.

Can spousal maintenance be changed or stopped?

Yes, spousal maintenance is not a permanent arrangement. It can be varied or discharged under certain conditions:

  1. Change in circumstances: If there are significant changes in circumstances, such as the payer’s loss of employment or the recipient’s new job or remarriage, either party can apply to the court for a variation or cessation of payments.
  2. Fixed term: Typically spousal maintenance is set for a fixed term, allowing the recipient time to gain employment or complete educational qualifications and become financially independent.

It is essential to seek legal advice if you believe a change in your spousal maintenance is warranted, as this is a legally complex area.

What happens if one party stops paying spousal maintenance?

If a party fails to comply with a spousal maintenance order, there are several steps that can be taken:

  1. Legal advice: First, consult with your solicitor to discuss the best course of action.
  2. Enforcement: Your solicitor can help you apply to the court for enforcement of the order. The court has various powers to enforce payment, including orders for the sale of property, garnishing wages, or even seizing assets.

Non-payment of spousal maintenance can have serious legal consequences and it is advisable to address these issues promptly with the assistance of a solicitor.

For help and advice with family and relationship matters, please get in touch with Alison Green, Head of our Family and Relationship Team at Mackrell.Solicitors on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at alison.green@mackrell.com

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Alison Green
Alison has more than 25 years’ experience assisting clients with Family and Relationship matters. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.