Has the ‘Meal Ticket for Life’ Finally Come to an End?
The newspapers have been full of the case of Wright v Wright this week, since the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Tracey Wright, the ex-wife of a race horse surgeon, Ian Wright, who sought to challenge a decision made by the lower courts that her maintenance from her former husband would significantly reduce.
This case is by no means straight forward. The parties separated in 2006 and the court made an order that the couple’s £1.3 million pound home was to be sold and the proceeds divided. Mrs Wright was awarded a £450,000 mortgage free home in Newmarket, plus stabling for her horse and her two daughters’ ponies. Mr Wright was also order to pay her and the children’s maintenance and school fees. Of this money, Mrs Wright was to receive £33,200 by way of spousal maintenance.
Mr Wright had made an application to the court last year to have the maintenance payments reduced due to his concern that it would be unaffordable after his retirement at age 65. The court at first instance ordered that the payments should cease but they did it in a staged period of five years leading up to his retirement. The judge at first instance, District Judge Lynne Roberts, said that there was no good reason for her not to seek work following the separation.
Mrs Wright appealed against that decision and the case came before the Court of Appeal. Whilst the judgement is not yet available, it has been reported that Lord Justice Pitchford had commented in his judgement that divorcees with children aged over seven should work for a living and that Mrs Wright should “just get on with it” and seek a job.
Although this case involved significant financial assets, it is a case that the court will have to have regard to when determining applications of this nature in the future. The courts are becoming more averse to making orders giving spousal maintenance to wives for the rest of their lives. However, this did deal with a specific issue of retirement. It is not a case where the court gave the wife no maintenance at all but is one that the court must consider when dealing with cases like this.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 makes it clear that the court have a duty to consider whether or not a clean break is appropriate in most cases. A clean break is where husbands’ and wives’ financial claims come to an end at any final hearing or agreed order. Neither can make any future claims against the other. This is generally seen as desirable because it brings certainty to both the husband and wife on the end of their marriage. Where that is not possible however, the court can decide whether or not to order maintenance for a specific period or a life-long maintenance order. When life-long maintenance orders are made, if there is a change in circumstances by either party, either one can make an application to the court to downwardly or upwardly vary the application for maintenance. At this stage, the court can consider all of the factors in the case afresh. This in itself is a danger when dealing with cases that involve spousal maintenance.