30 July 2013
Spousal maintenance explained
The Daily Mail has today reported on the case of Sacha and Peter Mullins, a couple who in 1992 ended their marriage by Decree Absolute. Since Separation, Mr Mullins has paid his ex-wife £24,000 a year to help with "lifestyle, and bringing up their three children."
In 2012 Mr Mullins sold his wealth management business for £2.6million and Mrs Mullins made an application to Court, seeking more money from her ex-husband, 21 years after they Divorced.
The court ruled that Mrs Mullins should receive her future Maintenance as a £300,000 lump sum in instalments. Mrs Mullins appealed against that decision but the court ruled that the couple should sever their financial ties by way of a clean-break as they had been divorced for 'longer than most people are married.'
In his ruling, Lord Justice Patten said ''When this marriage ended, there was nothing, all of the husband’s wealth was built up again post-separation... She can’t expect to enjoy the standard of living which she would have had if they had stayed married.'
Although the court has a duty to try and achieve a clean break (where there is no on-going financial payment between Husband and Wife), it is not always possible to do so. In some cases, Wives are entitled to receive additional monthly payments in their own right, whether for a short term or for so long as they and their former Husband are still alive. This is known as spousal maintenance.
This type of maintenance can be problematic as it can be changed or varied if either party’s financial situations change. In such situations, either party can make an application to court, for the court to decide what variation, either by way of increase or decrease, is appropriate. The court has a very wide discretion to decide what order to make looking at all the circumstances of the Husband and the Wife, and if there are Children to be considered this will be a main consideration for the court.
As with all forms of litigation, an application for a variation of a maintenance order comes with risks, and so is not a position that should be adopted lightly. The court is entitled to consider making a one off capital payment to Wife to "buy out" her maintenance which can result in a substantial payment. In other cases a court might terminate an order resulting in no further payment at all.