What is Spousal Maintenance and How is it Calculated?

1 July 2024|Related :

When it comes to agreeing the financial arrangements as part of a divorce, spousal maintenance is often a controversial topic. There’s often a great deal of confusion surrounding when it is needed, how much should be paid and how long the maintenance should last.

In this guide, we’re going to be explaining all you need to know about spousal maintenance in simple terms and bust some common myths.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is a type of payment made by a wife or husband to their former spouse as part of their divorce settlement. Typically, it is paid on a monthly basis and lasts for either a defined period, or sometimes for the rest of your former spouses’ life, which is known as a ‘joint lives order.’

Why Pay Spousal Maintenance When We Are No Longer Together?

When people marry, they not only commit to each other emotionally but financially too. Divorce law is based on the future needs of both partners, and it is generally accepted that when one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other, there may need to be some financial support set up to avoid hardships or negative affects on any children from the marriage.

How Much Spousal Maintenance Do I Need to Pay?

There is no set amount that must be paid as spousal maintenance is calculated on a case-by-case basis. To determine the level of spousal maintenance, the court considers the income of both parties and the standard of living they enjoyed when married.

The amount is also dependent on the party’s ability to make the payments as it can be tricky to divide the assets of a single family to meet the needs of two separate homes.

However, it is worth noting that the award isn’t set and can be varied if circumstances change.

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?

Spousal maintenance lasts as long as both parties agree that it is necessary, or if they cannot agree, by a court order.

The agreement can be terminated if the maintenance recipient remarries or enters into a civil partnership. It will also cease if either party passes away.

Typically though, spousal maintenance will continue to be paid until the recipient can either support themselves or their financial needs are reduced, such as if their children finish university or leave home.

Is Spousal Maintenance Guaranteed?

No, spousal maintenance isn’t fixed or guaranteed. Changes to circumstances can cause the spousal maintenance to be varied or dismissed by the court as well. For example, if the recipient was to live with a new partner or if the party paying loses their job or becomes ill, the maintenance may be dismissed.

However, if you have a consent order in place and your ex refuses to pay, then you can have this order enforced through the courts.

What Factors Are Taken into Account When Determining Spousal Maintenance?

  • The length of the marriage.
  • Both parties’ reasonable budgets.
  • The age of any children from the marriage.
  • The needs and resources required by those children.
  • The ability to work, re-train or set up a business.
  • The lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.
  • Both parties’ ages and when you are likely to retire.
  • Intentions to cohabit with a new partner or remarry.

What Factors Are Not Taken into Account When Determining Spousal Maintenance?

  • The grounds for divorce.
  • Who is to blame for the marriage ending.
  • Who contributed to what during the marriage.
  • Whose decision is was to have children and/or stop a career.
  • Whether either party may receive support from other family members in the long term future.
  • The income of any new partner they are not cohabiting with.

How do I Claim Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance can be agreed upon by both parties, including how much is paid and for how long, but if either is unwilling to agree, you can apply to the court and request that they consider your case. 

They will then decide whether you’re entitled to it or not. If they decide that you are entitled to spousal maintenance, they will issue a court order and your ex will be required to comply.

Spousal Maintenance FAQs

What is a Nominal Maintenance Order?

Nominal maintenance orders are issued in favour of one or both of the parties, stating that they have enough income to cover their needs independently, so no maintenance is needed (although it may be required in the future.)

This order is typically granted to the parent who acts as the primary caretakers of the children of the marriage and it acts as a safeguard against any changes in circumstance that may happen later down the line, causing the parent to become unable to meet their financial needs.

In such cases, the parent may ask the court to increase the nominal order from an annual amount of £1 per year (which isn’t actually paid) to a greater amount.

In the case where both parents share childcare, the nominal maintenance order can be reciprocal between the parents. This is rare, however it does work as an insurance policy and demonstrates to the court that you have considered future possibilities and your children’s needs as part of your agreement.

My ex is refusing to pay. How can we reach an agreement?

There are 11 methods to reach a financial agreement as part of a divorce:

  • Discuss it between yourselves.
  • Involve a family member or friend to help in the discussion.
  • Use a divorce facilitator.
  • Use family mediation (this is usually required in order to go to court).
  • Use shuttle mediation.
  • Ask for an independent barrister review.
  • Use a collaborative process.
  • Use hybrid mediation (all relevant experts and parties in the same meeting)
  • Use solicitor-led negotiation.
  • Go to arbitration.
  • Apply to the family court for an order.

Can I stop paying spousal maintenance?

Once spousal maintenance has been established, the payer cannot stop the payments until the end of the agreed period of maintenance unless circumstances have changed.

Instead, what you can do is try to mediate with your former spouse if your situation has changed. If you cannot agree, you can apply to the court to have the maintenance reduced or terminated if there is a significant change in financial circumstances on your part, or if the recipient’s financial circumstances have improved.

Before terminating or reducing spousal maintenance, the court will review the circumstances and decide whether or not the recipient can make do without the maintenance and avoid undue hardship.

Can I stop paying spousal maintenance if I lose my job?

If you lose your job and it is no longer possible for you to pay spousal maintenance, you should contact the recipient to come to an agreement, or  you can apply to the court to get the spousal maintenance suspended for as long as you’re unemployed.

If you find alternative employment with a different salary (higher or lower), both parties can apply to the court to get the existing order varied.

The recipient of spousal maintenance has a job, do I still have to pay? 

If the recipient of spousal maintenance has a new job that allows them to cover their needs without undue hardship, the maintenance may be reduced or terminated.

The recipient of spousal maintenance is living with a new partner, do I still have to pay?

If the recipient of spousal maintenance has started to cohabit with a new partner, it doesn’t automatically cause the maintenance to end. Cohabitation is more uncertain than marriage and those who cohabitate can’t make the same financial claims against each other if the relationship ends.

However, you can appeal for the amount paid to be reduced if you believe that they are much better off financially and can support themselves comfortably.

Who is entitled to receive spousal maintenance?

Either party in the middle or a divorce is entitled to receive spousal maintenance. There are a few things that will be considered when deciding spousal maintenance, such as the marriage duration, both parties’ employment statuses, age, who is taking care of any children from the marriage and whether or not either party can manage financially without receiving spousal maintenance.

We aren’t married but we were cohabiting for many years, can I still claim spousal maintenance?

No. Only couples who have been married are entitled to spousal maintenance. You can of course agree to ongoing payments between you as a separating couple, but if you are unable to agree you cannot make a claim for spousal maintenance through the courts.

If you are not married and have children, you can claim for child maintenance. 

We are already divorced, can I still make a claim for spousal maintenance?

Yes, you are able to make a claim at any point following your divorce unless you have a clean break consent order in place.

What is a clean break consent order?

A clean break consent order will cut any ongoing ties between you and your former partner financially. Without this order, either one of you can make a claim against the other later down the line, even many years after the divorce has been finalised!

Imagine you were to win the lottery or start a hugely successful business- without a clean break consent order, your future wealth could be claimed by your ex-spouse.

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