Divorce is a complex and challenging process that can have significant financial implications for both parties involved. Financial matters can often become a source of conflict and contention during a divorce, especially when one partner has lower income or has sacrificed their career for the sake of the family. In such cases, seeking spousal maintenance through the court can provide vital financial support to help the disadvantaged partner transition into post-divorce life and become financially independent. Understanding the legal rights and options surrounding spousal maintenance is crucial, and consulting with a family law solicitor can provide valuable guidance and representation throughout the process. By working with a solicitor, individuals can navigate the complexities of spousal maintenance and ensure a fair and equitable resolution for their financial well-being.
What is spousal maintenance?
When it comes to divorce or dissolving a civil partnership in the United Kingdom, one of the partners may agree or be compelled by a family court to make periodical payments or lump-sum payments to the other partner when the latter is financially disadvantaged. These payments are referred to as spousal maintenance payments. They are designed and aimed at helping the weaker party financially, in order to adjust his or her financial position after the divorce. As we stated earlier, life after a divorce isn’t always easy, especially if you aren’t as financially stable as your partner, and most people need a little bit of support to start over. So, when in such a situation, one can apply to a court to have the ex-partner compensate them, or rather, help them with the financial needs that arise from the breakdown of the marriage. The main aim of the court here is for both parties to be financially independent, eventually. Please note that spousal maintenance is different from child maintenance payments.
The different types of spousal maintenance orders
There are different types of spousal maintenance orders. All these court orders are issued under different circumstances, and the order that you will receive depends on your financial status, plus a couple of other factors. Here are the orders:
Clean break – this is the most preferable type of maintenance payment, given that it separates any financial ties present between the parties as quickly as possible. What happens is that one party ‘buys out’ the other party by paying them a lump sum after the divorce. For a clean break to happen, there has to be a large amount of capital available – might be from selling a house, a savings account, or from other assets.
If a court establishes that a clean break is possible, it will push for one. When it happens, there won’t be periodical spousal maintenance payments after that. Now, when it comes to finances, you need to protect yourself from your ex-partner, in case he or she decides to make further financial claims in the future after the clean break. This is why a clean break order is important as it sets out the financial plans and specifies the clean break, clearly.
In England and Wales, a clean break order can be issued even when one of the parties is opposed to it, but in Northern Ireland, both parties have to be in agreement for the order to be issued.
Term order – this particular order is issued if the divorced parties involved were only married for a short period of time – less than 5 years. The court determines the time period the order will last, and the amount the recipient will be receiving as spousal support every month. But this can be appealed if one party isn’t satisfied with the order. So, if, for example, the dependent party gets a better-paying job, of course, you can argue in court to have the amount payable reduced, or dismissed. Essentially, the term order is aimed at pushing both parties towards financial independence in a short period of time.
Joint lives order – this order is issued if the court is convinced that it’s unlikely that one of the parties will ever be financially independent, for instance, when the dependent party has been out of work for a very long time and is be challenging for them to get a job and achieve financial independence. Also, if the divorced individuals had young children at the time of the divorce, it is highly likely that the primary caregiver will have to care for them full-time, and that means he or she won’t be able to work and less likely to achieve financial independence, for a few years, at least. In such a case, the judge will most likely issue a Joint Lives Order for spousal maintenance. But if the circumstances were to change down the line, the payor can appeal the order.
Nominal order – in some cases, you will find that spousal maintenance isn’t necessary for both parties to maintain their standard of living as they both have sufficient income. So, the judge issues a nominal order in favor of one party, who in most cases is the mother, as she is considered the primary caregiver to their children (if any). Basically, a nominal order safeguards against future changes that might affect their ability to meet their financial needs. Like any other court order, a nominal order is subject to change through appeal. If both parties are co-parenting and are sharing the kids between them, then the order can be made mutual.
When should you consider spousal maintenance?
As we mentioned earlier, spousal support is applied by the financially unstable party after a divorce, either because you expect your standard of living to change drastically, or you will be at a financial disadvantage. Maybe you made a decision to forego your career in order to support your family during the marriagefter the divorce, obviously you will have a really hard time trying to continue the standard of living you had before the divorce or dissolution. Such people are always trying their best to get back on their feet and become financially independent. If you are in such a situation, then you should consider applying for spousal maintenance with a family court, immediately.
Remember that if the marriage or civil partnership lasted for a short period of time – typically, less than five years – then the spousal support might not be paid, or if there are payments, it will only be for a short while. But if yours was a union that lasted for longer than five years, and if you are unable to work during the marriage and after divorce, the court may order that you are supported for life. The payment would only stop if your were to get married to another person, or your ex-partner dies. So, you have to take this into consideration when deciding to apply for spousal maintenance.
How long does spousal maintenance last?
The court may order spousal maintenance only for a short while – two to five years – basically, an appropriate period to enable one or the other to be financially independent. This is what we refer to as a term order or term maintenance. It can be extended, or dismissed if the court deems necessary. Then there is joint lives’ maintenance, which is basically lifelong, meaning it lasts for a lifetime unless the person receiving spousal maintenance remarries or enters into another civil partnership.
How is spousal maintenance calculated?
There is no particular set formula for calculating spousal maintenance payments. This means that every arrangement for payments will certainly be different. In a nutshell, spousal maintenance payments are calculated based on the recipient’s financial situation, which the court considers carefully before arriving at a final decision. Among many other things, the courts will consider the following:
- The standard of living of both parties when they were still married;
- The financial position for both parties;
- The employment status for both parties, and how much each makes every month – or basically, their earning power;
- Whether there are children involved;
- What are the chances for both parties to become financially independent – by getting a job;
- How long did the marriage last;
- The ages of both partners.
These factors will not only help the family court in determining the amount of a recipient will be receiving, but will also inform it of the need for spousal support, in the first place.
Do I have to go to family court for this?
No, you don’t. In fact, it is very possible for you to have an informal agreement over the maintenance payments, outside the court. If you and your partner can agree on the payments, and come to an agreement on how the payments will be made, then there is no need for you to go to court, and as a matter of fact, you will be saving a lot of money that you would otherwise spend on the court proceedings. But in as much as an informal agreement is recommended, make sure that you hire a familysolicitor to advise you on the matter. If there is any signing that needs to be done, make sure that they are legit as per the requirements. Bottom line, if you decide to go for an informal agreement, you’d better be protected with certain level of legal assistance, just in case the ex-partner changes his/her mind midway.
How can I stop paying spousal maintenance?
There are three ways in which one can stop paying spousal maintenance:
- When a death occurs. If one partner dies – either the one paying or the recipient – then spousal maintenance automatically stops. For the recipient, insuring the maintenance payments will ensure that he or she continues receiving them, even after the death of the ex-partner.
- If the recipient remarries. If the party receiving spousal payment remarries, the payments should automatically stop. However, note that if the recipient is ‘cohabiting’ with someone, it does not stop spousal maintenance, as cohabitation isn’t recognised as a marriage in law. In such a case though, you can petition the court if you feel that you shouldn’t be paying.
- If either party’s financial situation changes, the party paying the maintenance payments can petition the family court to, either dismiss the payments or significantly reduce the amount being paid. If the recipient’s financial situation improves, the court might dismiss the payments. If the payer’s financial situation changes, and maybe loses his or her job, he or she should appeal to the court to suspend the payments while looking for another job.
Can one avoid paying spousal maintenance?
Well, not really! If the court orders you to pay spousal maintenance to your ex-partner, it may be because it established that the recipient’s financial situation is poor and that he or she can’t live without the payments. So, if you are defiant or default on the payment, you may face severe consequences. After all, disobeying court orders isn’t a smart move. If you are struggling to keep up with the payments, you can either talk to your ex-partner to explain your situation or, you can apply to the court to vary the order. However, it will be easier to change if both of you are in agreement.
If you are a recipient of spousal maintenance, and your ex-partner has stopped paying or has defaulted for several months, you can apply to the court to compel him or her to fulfill his or her obligation to you. The court may need to apply some enforcement measures if he or she continues to default.
Do I need a family solicitor when applying for spousal maintenance in the UK?
When applying for spousal support, there are a lot of documents, statements, and other items that you will need, some of which are pretty complex. So, hiring a family lawyer is highly recommended as he or she will guide you throughout the process, more so help you prepare a strong case. After all, this is the only way that you will ensure that all your needs are covered. In case you would like the order to be modified, your attorney will be of much help when it comes to arguing your case in court.