Spousal maintenance

When you divorce or dissolve a civil partnership, one of you may agree to pay the other ongoing spousal maintenance payments. This is known as "spousal support" or "alimony" and is designed to help the financially weaker party adjust to their financial position after divorce. Spousal maintenance is different to child maintenance. Child maintenance is financial support towards a child's everyday living costs when you separate from your partner.

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When should you consider spousal maintenance?

You can apply for spousal maintenance when you are divorcing your partner and feel that you will not be able to manage financially, either because your standard of living will change drastically, or you will be put at a financial disadvantage. This may be due to your decision to forego a career to support family and you now need time to develop your skills or to help you continue the standard of living you had prior to divorce or dissolution.

How is the amount of spousal maintenance determined?

There is no set formula for the calculation of spousal maintenance as there is for child maintenance. The payment has to be affordable for the paying party plus the needs of the payee have to be genuine.

The amount you receive would depend on many factors, including :

  • how much you need to live on
  • how much income you already have
  • how much you could potentially earn in the future
  • the assets that belong to the party making the payment as well as the way in which you lived during the marriage
  • how many children you have and their welfare

For how long must spousal maintenance be paid?

If the marriage or civil partnership is short (that is, less than 5 years), the courts will normally impose a Term Order, i.e. a period for which spousal maintenance is paid. However, if the couple has been together for a long time or if the court feels that the payee is unlikely to become financially independent, a Joint Lives Order may be imposed . A Joint Lives Order requires payment to be made for the rest of the payee’s life. In granting a Joint Lives Order, the court will consider all of the relevant factors mentioned above to see if the person receiving the payment can move closer to becoming financially independent at all.

Lump sum or continual maintenance payments?

In some circumstances, a lump sum can be paid instead of a continual maintenance payment. This helps to encourage a clean break, severing all financial ties between the parties.

Can the amount of payment change?

The person making payments can apply to court to have the amount adjusted, based on a change of circumstance, such as changes in income or the wealth of the party receiving the spousal maintenance. For instance, the payee could have secured a new job leading to them to become more financially independent. The court may decide to reduce the payment in order to reflect the change. It may also be reduced when the paying party is no longer capable of making the payments, eg. because they lost their job.

The court has also the power to do the opposite, i.e. increase the amount of payment when the paying party is no longer capable of making the payment, eg. because they lost their job.

When do the payments stop?

Spousal maintenance usually stops when:

  • you or your your ex-partner die
  • the payment term ends
  • the person receiving spousal maintenance remarries or enters into another civil partnership
  • the court provides an order to stop the payments.

Applying for spousal maintenance

You can apply directly to the court for spousal maintenance. If you feel you may be eligible for spousal maintenance, Ask a lawyer for more details about applying and the costs involved.

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