Maintenance for Ex Partners: The Meal Ticket for Life?
In a News item earlier in the year we looked at the decision from the Court of Appeal in the case of Wright v Wright. The case highlighted a definite shift in the attitude of the courts towards long term financial dependence by one ex-spouse upon the other.
Recently, we were instructed by a husband who had been paying maintenance to his former wife for some 15 years. He sought to phase out this financial commitment over the later years of his working life. His ex-wife would not agree and, further, sought to increase the maintenance. As the dispute could not be resolved informally, it had to be brought before the Court.
The District Judge in the County Court followed the approach in Wright in robust guidance given to the parties at the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing. The result of this guidance was that the parties were then able to agree a variation of the joint lives spousal maintenance order. There was an immediate reduction in the maintenance with the financial dependence to cease totally within a year.
Every case is fact specific and will be decided on its own merits. Accordingly it cannot be assumed that all joint lives orders can be varied at a later stage. However, dependent ex-spouses should be aware that there is an expectation that they should do everything they can to move towards financial independence. Should they not do so but, instead, continue to rely on their ex-spouse, they run the risk that the Court may look favourably on an application reduce or end the support. It is also unlikely that joint lives spousal maintenance orders will be routinely agreed or granted by the courts in future.
In those cases where maintenance payments are appropriate, it is more likely that an order will be granted for a fixed term. The length of that term will be dependent on the circumstances and considerations as to how much time the party will need to adjust to the situation, acquire employment and possibly re-train. Where there are young children involved, this may require a longer term order as the primary carer may not be in a position to achieve financial dependence for several years.