No More Meal Tickets

By Paul Hunt at 00:00

In a recent high profile case, the court made a decision as to the continuation of “spousal maintenance” (in other words financial support between the adults as distinct from child support) this would suggest that the court is taking more of a hard line view on these matters.

When I first began to practice (some 30 years ago) where there was a spousal maintenance order in existence, even if it was only a nominal order of 5p per year, it was virtually given that this would be during the joint lives of the parties or until the recipient remarried.

In more recent times, the court has been inclined to see whether a clean break can be achieved by dispensing with spousal maintenance and perhaps offsetting this against the division of capital.  There is more of an expectation that parties should seek to support themselves post divorce at an expectation of indefinite support.

In this present case, the parties had divided their capital at the time of the divorce and the husband had been reordered to pay the wife £175,000.00 per annum maintenance (so hardly a typical case for most of us).

The matter came back to court when the wife applied for an increase.

This application seems to have backfired because the husband both opposed the application for an increase and challenged the basis of the original award.

The decision of the Appeal Court was that the maintenance payment should stop in three years time rather than continuing during joint lives.

The argument is often that a person who has a lifetime maintenance order has no incentive to get back into the workplace and support themselves.

Long-term maintenance orders are often described disparagingly as a meal ticket for life.  This can be an unhelpful phrase when there may genuine reasons for ongoing support beyond a couple of years post divorce.

This is not a radical new direction; there have been several cases which have taken broadly the same approach.  This may, however, represent significant signalling that this direction is continuing.   The sort of case that is reported here, of course, is not remotely typical of what happens to most people when they are divorced and in this case, there were significant assets which were generating income/interest and which were providing significant sources of income for the wife irrespective of spousal maintenance.  There may well, however, be cases where the ex-spouse has no realistic possibility of getting back into the workplace in any reasonable timeframe, for a variety of reasons, and ongoing support may be appropriate.

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Paul Hunt

Paul Hunt , Senior Associate

As a senior solicitor Paul is responsible for cases involving divorce or separation, children, financial and property issues and domestic violence.

He is member of Resolution panel for private children law, ancillary relief and domestic violence. Paul is also trained in Collaborative Law.

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