Spousal maintenance no longer a meal ticket for life

The Supreme Court, the highest domestic court in England and Wales, has granted permission to a husband allowing him to challenge the court of Appeal decision made regarding his spousal maintenance case back in February. The case received much attention in the mainstream press at the time as the Court of Appeal allowed his wife’s appeal against a refusal to increase monthly payments to her.

Following their divorce in 2002, the parties’ financial claims were settled by agreement and a consent order was produced and sealed by the Court. Part of the financial settlement included the husband providing the wife with a capital sum and making periodical payments to her of £1,199 pcm. In 2014, the husband submitted an application to the Court asking for the payments to his wife to either cease completely or, if the Court felt this would put the wife in significant undue hardship, for the payments to be varied downward so he would be paying less to her. His case was that his ex-wife:

(i) had lost the capital she had been awarded in 2002 through gross mismanagement;

(ii) was in a position to work more in order to increase her earnings.

The wife countered the husband’s application by asking the Court to vary the periodical payments and increase the amount her ex-husband was paying on the basis that she was unable to meet her basic needs. The judge held that the order should continue without any variation. The Court of Appeal allowed the wife’s appeal.

The Supreme Court has granted the husband permission to appeal on the single ground – “Whether, provision having already been made for the respondent’s housing costs in the capital settlement, the Court of Appeal erred in taking these into account when raising her periodical payments.”

It is becoming well established in recent case law that once a couple divorces, each spouse should be expected to pay their own way in life and meet the cost of being independent from each other going forward. Only in exceptional cases where one spouse is going to suffer a significant degree of undue hardship should the other spouse be required to pay maintenance to the financially weaker party. Even then the level of maintenance is expected to decrease over time as each party transitions to full independence.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Ipswich Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk