• 4 min read

Everything you need to know about Spousal Maintenance

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When couples separate and divorce, it is common for either party to be concerned about spousal
maintenance – that is, whether one party would be entitled to receive those payments and, if so, how
much and for how long.

These commonly asked questions on this issue should provide some clarity:

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is financial support that one spouse or civil partner pays to the other after they
divorce or separate. Spousal Maintenance payments are paid to the receiving spouse to help them
meet their income needs if they require that additional financial support post separation.

Spousal maintenance is not the same as maintenance payable for children of the marriage. There is a
statutory requirement for a “non-resident parent” to provide financial support for their children. Child
Maintenance payments can be agreed between the parties or paid through the Child Maintenance
Service who have an online calculator to determine the amount payable depending on the payers
income and the amount of overnight stays with the children.

How much am I entitled to receive in Spousal Maintenance?

There is no automatic entitlement to Spousal Maintenance and no set formula for calculating how
much spousal maintenance should be paid, if deemed appropriate, which can make agreeing the
payments difficult. Each case is determined by the specific circumstances of the parties. It is often
paid in cases where one party has a lower income (perhaps as a result of taking a career break to
care for children) and therefore will be unable to meet their income needs post separation. The
amount of spousal maintenance payments is most commonly determined by several factors, including
each spouse’s needs and income, earning potential, the standard of living enjoyed during the
relationship as well as whether there are any dependent children involved.

A good starting point to determine if maintenance should be payable is to look at each party’s income
versus their estimated future outgoings. If there is a deficit for one party and the other party has the
financial resources to meet that, it is likely that spousal maintenance would be payable to cover that

Spousal maintenance is usually paid monthly but it is possible to make all the payments in one lump
sum, often referred to as capitlising the maintenance. This is usually done where one or both parties
are keen to achieve a clean break between them – i.e. no ongoing financial commitments.

How long do Spousal Maintenance payments last?

Historically, spousal maintenance clauses were often referred to a “joint lives” orders on the basis that
the maintenance is payable until the death of either party, or the remarriage of the receiving spouse.
Those orders could therefore continue for many years post-divorce.

Joint lives orders are now much more rare and generally payments are now made until the receiving
spouse is able to support themselves financially and to assist that party in transitioning to financial
independence. The Court are now more likely therefore to include a date by when payments will
cease. An example would be between 2 – 5 years post-divorce.

As a general principle, the court will always want to consider whether it is possible to bring to an end
any financial dependence between the parties after a divorce as soon as it is fair and reasonable to
do so. This is called achieving a “clean break” and this is something that Court will want to encourage
if possible.

What happens if my financial circumstances change?

Either spouse may apply to the Court and for a variation of the spousal maintenance amount or the
duration of payments if their financial situation has changed. For example. If the paying party loses
their job and are no longer in a position to make payments, they can apply to the Court for the
payments to be reduced or stopped. Either party can also apply to the Court for the remaining
maintenance to be capitalised i.e. paid in one lump sum.

If you are unable to pay spousal maintenance, in the first instance you should contact your ex-spouse
as soon as possible to let them know. You may be able to reach an agreement or compromise with
them in respect of the payments. If not, you may have to make an application to the Court for the
original order to be varied.

You will be required to provide the Court with an update of your financial circumstances when making
an application to the Court for a variation.

What if my ex-partner is living with a new partner, do I still have to pay?

If you are paying spousal maintenance and your ex-partner is living with a new partner, you can apply
to the court to have your payments terminated. The court will consider several factors in making its
determination, including the length of the new relationship, the financial circumstances of the new
partner and the impact upon the ex-spouse financially of the payments stopping.

What about Maintenance Pending Suit?

Maintenance Pending Suit or ‘MPS’ is financial support paid by one spouse to another after divorce
proceedings have started and until that is finalised but before a final financial agreement is reached.

MPS payments can only be requested to meet interim and immediate income needs and do not cover
longer term or capital outgoings. Generally a request is made where one party has a limited income
and needs immediate financial assistance to meet their needs following separation.

Before making an application to the Court for MPS you must try and reach agreement with your
spouse and at the very least set out to them in writing the level of maintenance required with a
“budget” form setting out how the sum has been calculated. Reaching agreement on the issue is
much more cost effective than incurring further legal costs on dealing with the issue in Court.

If you need any advice in relation to arrangements for spousal maintenance, please get in
touch with one our expert team.

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