Spousal maintenance: “Sea change” in the law?
It has been reported that there are now fewer cases where wives on divorce are receiving life-long spousal maintenance orders from their husbands. It does appear that there has been a “sea change” in the law.
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Court is required to consider whether or not the case is appropriate for a clean break. That means that neither husband nor wife would be able to make any future claims against the other. Generally, a Court have to look at whether or not there are sufficient assets to justify a clean break order. This means that the Court would look at whether or not there should be an uneven split in one person’s favour of the available assets to compensate them for the fact that they have a lot less income than the other person.
In a recent reported case, the wife, Mrs Waggott applied to the court for an upward variation of maintenance payments, after the Court had made an order previously granting her over £9 million by way of a lump sum and maintenance payments for life of £175,000. The Judge refused this application, stating that the payments of £175,000 should stop in 2021 and that Mrs Waggott could make up the shortfall from losing her annual payments, by investing around 10% of the lump sum and use the interest to live on.
It is clearly becoming the Court’s preference to order a Clean Break. That said, there are certain cases where there is less capital, but more income, which will continue to justify receiving spousal maintenance.
The Court are under a duty to look at whether or not maintenance should be for a time limited period or lifelong. For example, a Court could look at limiting the payments in the case of an older couple, until both of them have received pensions. Alternatively, in a younger couple, the Court might look at whether or not there is a possibility of a wife or husband re-training and being able to earn money in their own right.
However, it does appear that the Courts are very much preferring going for a Clean Break Order if that can be achieved.
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