What is spousal maintenance and how much will I have to pay?

The Family Court can make a wide range of orders in respect of both income and capital when addressing the financial settlement following a divorce.

Readers may be familiar with one of the income orders known as spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance refers to regular payments that are made by one former spouse to the other in order to supplement their income.

When will the court order spousal maintenance?

The Family Court has a very wide discretion as to the orders it can make: no two cases are the same, and every financial settlement will be tailored to achieve fairness on both sides.

Judges are under a duty to try to achieve a “clean break” in every financial settlement, such that there is no ongoing financial tie between former spouses. However, where this is not possible (for example, because there isn’t enough income or capital to meet someone’s needs), the court will look at making a maintenance order to meet the deficit.

How much spousal maintenance will I have to pay?

How much you will have to pay depends on your and your former spouse’s particular circumstances and by reference to a number of factors set out in legislation. These include your income and earning capacity, your needs, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and the welfare of any children.

A spousal maintenance order is always variable, such that if there is ever a change in circumstances, either of you could make an application to increase or decrease the amount.

How long will I have to pay?

Spousal maintenance can be ordered for a specific period, or on a ‘joint lives’ basis (indefinitely). In recent years, judges have made fewer joint lives maintenance orders but they can still be made where the financially weaker party cannot work, for example because they are looking after young children.

Maintenance orders for a set number of years can be extended beyond the original term in exceptional circumstances, unless the court has specifically placed a bar to any extension at the time of the original order.

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