Article published in North East Times

One area of matrimonial finance that causes great contention amongst divorcing couples is spousal maintenance.

In many parts of Europe spousal maintenance does not exist, notwithstanding this can result in significant hardship to the financially weaker party. Even closer to home, in Scotland, maintenance is rarely extended beyond three years. In England, however, the division of the matrimonial assets is based on what both parties require to meet their “reasonable needs”, including income.

In most, but not all cases, spousal maintenance tends to be the recourse of the ex-wife. Usually she has been the primary carer for the children of the family and in doing so has disadvantaged her own career, while her husband has been able to progress his. Upon separation she has insufficient income to meet her outgoings and needs maintenance to support herself.

Spousal maintenance is frequently ordered for the duration of the parties’ joint lives and will only terminate upon the death of either party, the re-marriage of the recipient or upon a further order.

But when will a further order be made?

Spousal maintenance orders can be varied or terminated by the court upon an application by either party to the marriage provided a change of circumstances, affecting either party’s income, is established. However, the timing is crucial.

All too often a termination of maintenance is only considered by the paying party when reaching retirement age. This is too late. Although the court will have sympathy with their predicament it will be considered unfair to deprive the recipient of their only source of income at a similar time of life. The maintenance may be reduced but is unlikely to be terminated.

Instead, consideration should be given to a variation/termination application as soon as any of the following apply:-

• The children of the family have reached 18 or are fully independent;

• The recipient is cohabiting with another person or has obtained gainful employment;

• The income of the paying party has reduced significantly.

If you wish to avoid paying maintenance ‘til death do you part, seek early advice from Major Family Law.

Written by Rebecca Tarn, Solicitor, Major Family Law, The Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, NE20 9SU. T: 01661 82 45 82