The thorny issue of Spousal Maintenance often provokes heated debate during financial proceedings on divorce. However it isn’t only a concern for headline-grabbing celebrities and multi-millionaires, it is a reality for many divorcing couples.
Spousal Maintenance is an income payable by one spouse to the other to meet their income needs. It is payable where there is a difference between spouses’ incomes and where there is need for additional income by one or other spouse.
This is often a difficult issue and, when raised, an audible gasp of horror can be heard as a client faced with paying spousal maintenance tries to grasp the concept of paying a percentage of their hard-earned future income to their former spouse.
There is no formula for calculating spousal maintenance. How much is paid depends upon the somewhat woolly concept of both parties’ ‘reasonable needs’. The principle of ‘need’ is subjective and can lead to much debate if not well-defined from the outset. Is it reasonable to continue to expect to receive money to pay for two holidays to the Maldives each year or to eat out 5 nights per week simply because this had been expenditure incurred during the marriage?
In recent years the concept of need has been generously interpreted; however, it has always been the case that the Court has an obligation to achieve a clean break, bringing spousal maintenance to an end, as soon as possible. This concept has been reinforced this week in the headlines when Mrs Wright was told by a Judge that her ‘Mr Wright’ a millionaire equine vet, need not “support her for life” and she should “get a job”. The Judge stated that anybody of working age with children over the age of 7 should work for a living and not solely expect to be supported for life by a former spouse. Is this a landmark decision? In reality this case simply reconfirms the principles the Court already has regard to, particularly in relation to payments continuing into retirement.
Spousal Maintenance can be for a fixed term of years or until a specific event such as the youngest child reaching the age of 7, or it can be payable for the parties’ joint lives. How long payments continue will, of course, depend upon the individual circumstances. However, in all cases, spousal maintenance will automatically stop should the spouse who receives the money remarry.
The comments of the Judge in the Wright case make good headlines but it is important to know that one size does not fit all. To know if this case is relevant to you, it is important that you get specialist advice.