Answering common questions about spousal maintenance

13th March 2024

As specialists in family law, we recognise that the period following a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership can be fraught with uncertainties, particularly concerning your financial obligations such as spousal maintenance.

Below, we aim to demystify spousal maintenance, offering clarity and guidance to those concerned about their obligations or entitlements post-separation.

Please remember, however, that the legal considerations surrounding spousal maintenance are complex and that it’s always best to speak to a qualified and experienced family law solicitor for advice on the divorce process.

What is spousal maintenance?


Spousal maintenance is financial support provided by one ex-partner to another after a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, aimed at helping the lower-earning or non-earning party adjust to new financial circumstances.

It varies from temporary support during legal proceedings to long-term post-divorce maintenance.

Eligibility depends on factors like marriage length, financial needs, and earning capacities, with courts aiming for a fair resolution.

Key considerations for determining maintenance include:

  • The standard of living during the marriage or partnership.
  • Each party’s income, earning capacity, and financial resources.
  • The financial needs and responsibilities of both parties.

The Court often aims for a “clean break” to encourage financial independence but may grant maintenance for a fixed period or indefinitely, based on age, presence of minor children, and time spent out of work for child-rearing.

Can you modify or terminate spousal maintenance?


Spousal maintenance is not set in stone and can be modified or terminated under certain conditions.

Significant changes in circumstances, such as a substantial increase or decrease in either party’s income, may warrant a review; as to the impact of re-marriage or cohabitation see below.

Parties seeking to alter maintenance terms must apply to the Court for a variation order.

What happens if one party fails to pay spousal maintenance?


If one party fails to pay spousal maintenance, the Court can enforce payment through measures like garnishing wages, seizing assets, or issuing an attachment of earnings order.

They may also place a charge against the debtor’s property.

Those facing genuine financial difficulties should seek to vary the maintenance order by demonstrating a change in circumstances, possibly leading to reduced payments or a temporary pause.

Consulting a family law solicitor is crucial for anyone struggling with maintenance payments as failure to comply can result in financial penalties and, in severe cases, imprisonment.

What’s the difference between spousal maintenance and lump sum settlements?


Choosing between spousal maintenance and a lump sum settlement often involves a detailed analysis of both parties’ current and future financial situations.

A lump sum settlement may be particularly attractive to those seeking closure and a desire to avoid future disputes related to payment amounts or durations.

However, it requires careful consideration of the recipient’s ability to manage and invest the lump sum wisely to provide for their future needs.

This is especially relevant where long-term financial security is a concern, and the recipient may not have the earning capacity to replenish spent funds.

Moreover, determining the appropriate amount for a lump sum settlement involves complex calculations that consider the present value of future maintenance payments, the life expectancy of both parties and potential changes in circumstances.

What is the impact of remarriage and cohabitation on spousal maintenance?


Remarriage of the recipient ends spousal maintenance, as the financial support role shifts to the new spouse, cancelling the former partner’s payment duties.

Cohabitation, however, doesn’t automatically stop maintenance payments but may trigger a review to adjust terms based on the financial benefits of the new living situation.

Courts examine the cohabitation’s impact on the recipient’s finances, potentially modifying maintenance to align with the recipient’s current needs and the financial support provided by the cohabiting partner.

What is the best way to handle spousal maintenance?


Engaging a solicitor to help you manage your spousal maintenance obligations is usually the best approach.

A skilled solicitor can offer you invaluable guidance on understanding your legal obligations and rights, ensuring that any agreement or court order is fair and reflective of your circumstances.

They can also assist in negotiating maintenance payments, applying for variations in the maintenance order in light of changed circumstances, and representing your interests in court, if necessary.

With their expertise, solicitors can help you achieve a resolution that safeguards your financial stability while complying with legal requirements, providing peace of mind during a potentially challenging time.

Please speak to our family law experts for further information and advice. We have offices in Cannock, Sutton Coldfield, Dudley and Lichfield.