Spousal maintenance is a regular payment made to an ex spouse after the couple have divorced. This payment is additional to any monetary amount, property or belongings that may have been awarded to you as part of the divorce settlement.
It continues the financial ties between you and your ex spouse even though your marriage has ended.
When is spousal maintenance paid?
Spousal maintenance is paid when one ex spouse cannot afford to support themselves financially following a divorce.
It could be that this period of financial instability is only temporary, perhaps during and immediately after the divorce proceedings, or it could be an ongoing situation.
Where the marriage was brief, lasting for less than five years, it may be that spousal maintenance is not deemed as acceptable or is paid on a temporary basis through a ‘term order’.
Generally, you will be required to demonstrate that your need for financial support is a direct result of choices made while you were married, for instance, whether you gave up your career to bring up children which in turn led to all financial holdings being in the name of your ex spouse only.
How is spousal maintenance calculated?
The amount of spousal maintenance you would receive is dependent on a number of factors which include, but are not limited to:
- how much money you need to live on
- how much money your ex spouse who will be making the payments needs to live on
- the current, ongoing and potential income of both of you
- the standard of living you both experienced during your marriage
- how long the marriage lasted
- whether there are children involved and what is best for them
- the financial commitments of both of you
- any pension provision for both of you
- both your and your ex spouse’s ages
- whether either of you require ongoing medical treatment or have a disability
- what each of you has contributed to the marriage and the welfare of your family, not simply financial contributions but also factors such as time taken to look after children or maintain the marital home
- the conduct of each of you, especially conduct that may have led to one of you being at a financial disadvantage as a result of the end of the marriage
- that the payments are to meet your needs, rather than to act as compensation
- how long the spousal maintenance should last dependent on how soon you can become financially independent
- whether the spousal maintenance is on an extendable basis (where the arrangement could end when the ex spouse receiving payment achieves financial independence) or on
- a joint lives basis (generally until one of you dies)
- whether you signed a prenuptial agreement before marrying
There is no specific formula for calculating spousal maintenance payment amounts. The decision is down to the discretion of the courts and it is therefore important that you fully demonstrate your financial situation to the satisfaction of the courts.
When should you apply for spousal maintenance? Is there a deadline?
Spousal maintenance should be considered as one of the options of your divorce settlement, even if you believe that it won’t be necessary. It is always recommended that you take legal advice on all options open to you.
A claim for spousal maintenance can be made at any time, either during divorce proceedings or after the Decree Absolute formalises the end of your marriage. The claim could even be made a number of years after the divorce.
The exception to making a claim for spousal maintenance after the divorce is where the divorce settlement and division of finances is made legally binding in court.
Does claiming spousal maintenance depend on the reason for the divorce?
In most cases, you may apply for spousal maintenance regardless of the reasons that your marriage came to an end.
How is spousal maintenance different to child maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is an arrangement between two ex spouses to financially support the needs of one of them.
By comparison, child maintenance comes into effect when a couple have children under 18 years old. Payment is made by the non resident parent to the parent with whom the child lives for the upkeep and benefit of the child.
How long does spousal maintenance last?
The number of years that spousal maintenance can last may vary depending on the individual circumstances of each case.
It could stop when the agreed period of spousal maintenance payments comes to an end.
It could last until one of you remarries or enters a civil partnership. Where you simply cohabit with a new partner, your ex spouse could apply for a reduction in the amount of spousal maintenance.
Alternatively, as the receiver of spousal maintenance, where your income aside from the maintenance payments increases to meet your needs, your ex spouse could challenge the payment of spousal maintenance.
Where a couple have been together for over five years, spousal maintenance can last for life. This arrangement would be on a joint lives basis and would generally last until either you or your ex spouse die.
Can the amount of spousal maintenance be altered?
The amount of spousal maintenance arranged at the time of your divorce is calculated based on your needs at that point.
It is therefore perfectly acceptable for either ex spouse to later apply to court for the spousal maintenance amount to be re-assessed should either of you feel that your personal circumstances have sufficiently changed.
Reasons for requesting the amount of spousal maintenance to be altered include, but are not limited to:
- where you are finding it difficult to manage on the current spousal maintenance payments
- where your ex spouse’s income has increased by a large amount
- where the income of the ex spouse making the payments reduces significantly
- where you live with a new partner, but don’t enter into a marriage or civil partnership with them
Where the financial situation of the ex spouse who is making the payments improves, it may be possible to replace the spousal maintenance payments with a lump sum, hence leading to a clean break where the two of you have no further ties to each other’s finances. The spousal maintenance payments would stop at that point.
Lump sum instead of spousal maintenance?
Where the ex spouse who would have paid the spousal maintenance has sufficient funds, it may be possible, and acceptable to both of you, for a lump sum of money to be paid to you instead of arranging ongoing spousal maintenance.
You may then invest this lump sum to receive a regular income instead of relying on maintenance payments.
Agreeing to a lump sum does not necessarily mean receiving the total amount in one payment. It may be paid in instalments at pre-agreed stages in the divorce process and after.
This would lead to a ‘clean break’ of your finances. What this means is that you and your ex spouse release any ties over each other’s finances once the marriage comes to an end.
However, this clean break can only be enforced by the use of a court order to make the divorce settlement legally binding.
Why take legal advice?
When faced with the turmoil of a divorce, take specialist legal advice to inform you of all the options open to you, to advise you on the best path to take, and to safeguard your financial security now and in the future.