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What is spousal maintenance and when does it apply?

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Spousal maintenance is a payment provided to one former spouse from another following divorce, usually on monthly basis.

The purpose is to aid the financially weaker party with the transition to independence although, in some cases, achieving financial independence may not be possible. For instance, if one spouse is unable to work or the disparity in income is vast, financial autonomy may be unrealistic. 

In most cases, the courts will expect the recipient to work towards financial independence by, for example, re-entering the workplace after raising children, increasing their hours of work, or improving their employability by training or further education.

When does spousal maintenance apply?

A spouse does not have an automatic right to maintenance.  The need for maintenance arises when one spouse’s income or assets are inadequate to meet their reasonable outgoings.  A common example is parties taking the roles of ‘homemaker’ and ‘breadwinner’. 

The court recognises both roles as equal contribution to providing for the family, but the parties will usually have very different levels of income and prospects in employment as a result.

The courts will try to equalise the parties’ financial position until the financially weaker party is able to become self-sufficient, if this is possible.

How long is spousal maintenance paid for?

Spousal maintenance will continue for either a fixed duration or the remainder of the parties’ lives, which is determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Maintenance will automatically cease if the receiving party remarries or on either parties’ death.  Spousal maintenance may also terminate on cohabitation of the recipient, but this is not automatic and depends on the circumstances of the parties.

Spousal maintenance can be varied at any time should either of the parties’ circumstances change. 

How much maintenance will the courts award?

The amount of maintenance, if any, awarded will vary depending on circumstances. Parties will have to take part in an exercise known as financial disclosure by which they will need to evidence their financial positions and provide estimates of future outgoings to their spouse.

The courts will consider factors such as financial commitments, including those relating to children, as well as standard of living enjoyed during the marriage in tandem with the disparity in income.

There is no set formula for calculating spousal maintenance, so you should always seek specialist legal advice.

For more information on this, or any other divorce and family law matter, contact Charlotte Hurst on 01772 258321.


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