Updating maintenance law: how can we better define needs?

Relationships|February 24th 2012

There is an excellent article in this month’s Family Law written by Prof Elizabeth Cooke a Law Commissioner and Professor of Law at the University of Reading entitled “Pre-nups and beyond: What is the Law Commission up to now?”

She explains the current position of the Law Commission, which following its review of the law in this area and a consultation process, seems to be moving towards a recommendation that there should be law introduced so that certain “qualifying” nuptial agreements would be upheld in the future. In order to “qualify” however, agreements would have safeguards in place.  Firstly, as to how the agreements came to be made in the first place; these might include ensuring appropriate legal advice was given, that the timing of the agreement meant that it was not signed under pressure, and that there had been appropriate financial disclosure. Secondly, there would also be what she describes as “perhaps the most important safeguard”. Namely, that it should not be possible to contract out of a provision for a spouse’s needs given that “more is at stake here than the interests of the spouse…the state, the couple’s children if any and the wider family are all involved in and affected by such provision”.

It’s hard to argue with this position, which seems to be along the lines of the current law being applied in relation to nuptial agreements.

Since the Radmacher case we have seen that a person’s “autonomy” to enter into an agreement is becoming a fast developing area of the law (there is an excellent summary of V v V [2011] EWHC 3230, a recent decision by Mr Justice Charles, written by barrister Ashley Murray which considers just this point). Thus if people wish to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, and they are fully informed and advised, then their autonomy to do so will be respected by the court even if they later change their minds. They will also be held to their decision, provided that needs have been met.

By providing a safety net, the court can still step in. It’s hard to disagree that this should be the case, and it would make sense for new statute law to follow on the same basis.

But as Professor Cooke goes on to say in her article, what does “needs” mean and how should a party’s “needs” actually be defined?

Defining “needs”

It’s a very difficult question to answer, as practitioners know. Because although there is a primary and vital emphasis on meeting needs in the law from all the available assets, no couple is the same as the next and no family live their lives exactly the same as another. The meaning of “needs” to one family can be very different to another.

So, to consider this further, what guidance do we currently have in relation to needs?

Section 25 (2)(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, requires the court consider “the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.”

Statute law stops there, and then the parties must use their own judgement (and if they can’t agree the court will use its judgement) to decide what their specific needs are, in terms of income and capital requirements such as housing, and how they will be met out of the family pot (Note: whatever capital assets are left after needs are met are then to be shared. But how the capital assets are ultimately shared is a different topic.)

Meeting needs before deciding how to share the rest of the assets is not an easy job and the outcomes will differ for parties countrywide. It will ultimately depend on the view taken by the parties, their advisors and if necessary the court, as to their own particular needs, given their financial position and other factors that the court must take into account under Section 25 of the Act. Court practices vary too. Some Judges interpret “needs” far less generously than others. Some judges will give clean breaks to couples where there has been no compensatory capital payment, even when there are young children involved – while others will not.

So there is no uniform standard, formula or guideline to help divorcing couples. There is only the experience of those involved in the process to rely upon.

I have thought carefully about how I describe the law to a new client before advising them, as they invariably have little understanding of what the current law is or how it is applied.

Usually clients don’t know much at all. They don’t know that maintenance is payable out of income by one spouse to the other for differing periods of time, depending on the facts of the case. Nor do they know how their capital will be divided. They have made assumptions beforehand (which can be wrong, such as capital will be automatically divided 50/50 between them) and hope they will be financially okay afterwards.

Sensible people take legal advice to find out, while others choose not to do so and guess. They even negotiate and reach agreements without the faintest idea as to their rights in law; something that is very dangerous to do. Of course I know all the arguments about legal costs, but to me, taking legal advice about a life changing divorce is a “need” that always, without question, must come first. Even if you then choose to go it alone you should take informed legal advice as a first step.

No website can ever give you sufficiently good advice about your own position – and that includes this blog!

How I offer advice to clients at the outset

So what do I do when I meet a client for the first time and how do I advise them given the current state of the law?

First I take a snapshot of the client. I find out as much information as I can from them as to who each party is; their ages, addresses, their jobs, income, capital and the details of any personal debt held. I want to know about this family, all about the children and understand them. I will want to know about their lifestyle, the home (or homes) in which they live and the general style in which they live.  Sometimes in more complicated cases I need to bring in my in-house forensic accountancy team to also have a quick look at the picture, and help me better advise the client on a first meeting. For example, I might need to know straight away who actually owns a property being described to me, whether there are borrowings against the properties, who owns a company and in what proportions – as well as what the figures look like. This process helps me verify what the client is saying and give better advice.

Then I explain the law, going to Sections 22-25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act and indicate how in my opinion it will affect their case. I then also turn to relevant case law, and explain how the law has been applied in similar situations.

Only then do I turn to the client and offer my considered advice.

How I understand a client’s “needs”

I have represented over ten thousand clients in my career, from the very poorest people in society living on benefits with the most basic needs, to the very wealthiest with substantial needs that their money can easily provide. So I have experience of an entire cross section of “needs” within our population.

Some things are more important to some clients than to others. To some clients, living frugally but maintaining a number of ponies is non-negotiable. To others it might be continuing to live in the family home or visiting a much loved holiday home. To some it may be continuing a modest lifestyle but keeping children at a private school that realistically can be ill afforded. To most, it will be maintaining a relatively simple life for two people out of a stretched income and a restricted capital pot.

I will want to know how the client (husband or wife) will be managing in the future, including their income, housing needs and so forth – all depending on their circumstances and also applying the various statutory criteria in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act. You take what you consider the relevant factors in law, and then use them to argue for your client. Sometimes you have to tell the client what he or she doesn’t want to hear. The client’s expectations are unrealistic. Its better they hear it from their own lawyer, take it in, start to adjust to the reality, than cocky comments from the other side.

Given most clients have no idea at the start about their future needs, (and how could they be expected to know in a first interview?) we will usually conclude a first interview by giving a client some “homework” and focussing on just that, especially where and how they would like to live in the future based on our initial expectations for them. We will also give our clients a spreadsheet to take away and use as a guideline; including sections on housing costs, personal costs and so on.

It’s a difficult job for a lawyer, but I believe a client needs a realistic steer from the outset.

Defining “needs” in context

Identifying and defining “needs” then goes further. Does the statute mean all “needs”, just “reasonable needs”, or even “bare needs”?

Arguments often develop between couples who, faced with each other’s budgets, disagree as to what should or should not be taken into account. Many budgets clients (and lawyers) prepare are too high. But many, prepared by clients acting out of ignorance of the true cost of living, are also far too low. I have noticed that getting the budgets accurate and agreed is an increasing problem where Litigants in Person (LiPs) are concerned.

The trick of course, is to get the “needs” figure agreed between the parties, but usually I have the feeling that courts may apply an unspoken cross-check. They ultimately order payment of a percentage of income that they believe in the round to be the right figure for one party to pay, and the other to receive. So, is a percentage award the right approach? Or is that too swingeing? The Child Support Agency (CSA) formula is similarly based on a percentage, and I have yet to meet a single client who believes it to be fair.

And then the million dollar question: for how long should spousal maintenance be paid? How long do “needs” last post-divorce? Many might argue that in certain circumstances they persist until death or remarriage. Others would suggest that it shouldn’t go past a few years, if at all.

Readers of this blog know that paying ongoing spousal maintenance, particularly without a cut-off point, seems to be one of the thorniest topics of all. It touches raw nerves and emotions for everyone involved. Those paying maintenance regard it as a penal form of taxation, which affects new relationships for evermore. And recipients regard tax-free maintenance as their right, earned for their contribution during the marriage and “much needed” income, without which they cannot manage.

So, I am interested to know: what do you think about this subject? What does “needs” mean in the context of a divorcing couple? How do you think “needs” should be further defined, and why?

I do hope you will contribute to this debate, one which is current and at the very heart of divorce law.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Jan says:

    A need for spousal maintenance should be defined as an amount paid for a limited time to enable a woman (usually) to stand on their own two feet i.e. get a full time job and support themselves. However, the husband should not be expected to live in penury.
    Joint lives spousal maintenance is a salary for life where the spouse has no need to try to become independent. Surely every women should have a bit of pride and independence and take responsibility for themselves and not expect an ex husband to support them for the rest of their lives. Especially when, as in our case, they have been divorced for 10 years. It allows a bitter ex wife to have control over their ex forever.
    Two separate households cannot live at the standard as one and adjustments have to be made on both sides. In my husband’s case, £150 per month on clothes for the ex wife is not reasonable when he is left with not being able to afford anything for clothes.
    Why is the ex wife supposed to be able to live the lifestyle they had when married when the man can barely afford to live at a basic level unless supported by his second wife?
    As you say it is the most sensitive subject and causes us (my husband and me: his 2nd wife) much stress and many sleepless nights.
    Why don’t judges HAVE to work to the terms of the Matrimonial Causes Act and look at working towards a clean break even if it is not possible to begin with. In my husband’s final hearing it was not even mentioned. We were depressed for months.
    Sorry for the outpouring of grief! It is so distressing to be faced with a huge payment to an embittered woman for the rest of our lives.

  2. Rachel says:

    In my experience, a court would never make an order whereby the wife was able to have a lifestyle comparable to the one she enjoyed whilst married and the husband is left in penury. The court looks at the needs of both parties and the earning capacity of both. Even if a wife who has, throughout the course of the marriage, been responsible for raising the children while the husband furthered his career, then manages to secure full time employment after they separate, the likelihood is that she would earn a fraction of the husband’s income and maintenance would still be required. If your husband is paying a ‘huge amount’ to his ex-wife it would indicate he is a big earner and coupled with your income he can afford to pay her an amount that prevents her from living in penury and enabling you as a couple to live to a certain standard too. I am pretty sure the courts do not grant orders which would result in a huge imbalance of lifestyles for both parties.
    With regard to the ’embittered’ ex wife, maybe she is not vengeful, especially after 10 years, but is simply trying her best to maintain the life which has been apportioned to her because of the fallout of divorce and if she is the recipient of a huge maintenance payment then it is assumed a judge thought it was fair at the time it was given, based on all the circumstances of the case. Over time, circumstances change and if the payment is causing a significant drop in lifestyle for the payer whilst the payee is living the life of Riley, it is always open to the husband to make an application to vary the order.
    I am the so called ’embittered’ ex wife in my particular case and I assure you I am not motivated by revenge but a basic need to keep a decent roof over the heads of both myself and my daughter in what has been a traumatic and difficult period. I am juggling 2 jobs (earning basic wage) and caring for my daughter. I am the recipient of a court order which some may describe as ‘huge’ but it is only sufficient to meet my basic needs and the judge made it very clear that, even at 52, I now need to reach my full earning potential ( he estimated at £12k pa) and he granted me a spousal order until I am 60. My husband’s earning capacity is ten times this amount. Up to the date of the final hearing, he chose not to live with his girlfriend for obvious reasons but I am quite sure this will change in the future. I certainly will not be applying to the court to increase my payments based on their joint income. I am repelled by the idea of benefitting from her money. Please do not assume that all ex wives are embittered! The majority of us are just trying to get on as best we can, with the cards we have been dealt and the change in lifestyle/life over which we had no control.

  3. Rachel says:

    Marilyn, you ask how needs should be further defined.

    I think there is a necessity to have a more definitive system when considering this particular issue.

    I completed mt form E right at the outset of our separation and it was difficult to accurately assess my needs as I did not know what my bills in the future would consist of and my solicitor at the time helped me to complete the form and she suggested things like hairdressing and holidays that I previously had not considered! My aim was to achieve a figure which would represent my basic living expenses with a view to receiving a maintenance order, which, coupled with my projected earning capacity, would give me a decent lifestyle. Decent being defined as allowing me to book an annual holiday and have a reasonable car. Considering the life I had whilst married allowed me to have a sports car and a saloon, both less than 2 years old, on the drive and 2 long haul holidays per annum, I thought this was reasonable. The bottom line on my form E was £1600pm.
    By the time we arrived at a final hearing I asked my barrister if I should update it as the figures on it had proved to be very conservative and slightly short of my actual basic needs, not taking into account luxuries such as a holiday. He advised me to leave it alone.
    In the event, the judge ordered me a maintenance figure for myself and my daughter totalling the amount shown on the form E and the amount I was earning from my job then became surplus to needs. The opposing counsel argued that maintenance should be a total of £1200 pm as I was earning £400 pm at that time. The judge declared my form E represented my needs ‘pared to the bone’ and bore no resemblance to the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.
    In the end the judge granted an order for £1600 pm in total, £1000 for me and £600 for our daughter. My husband was left with about £3500 pm for himself ( he had by then reduced his earnings from £6500 pm under the guise of medical conditions which had coincided with the final hearing.
    His counsel challenged the judgement later saying it was wrong to grant me a maintenance order which clearly exceeded the needs set out in my form E. my counsel argued that needs have to be generously interpreted by the courts and had to take into account the pre divorce lifestyle. The judge agreed.
    My question is: should people be encouraged to exaggerate the figures on their form E’s or should they be compelled to include luxuries which mirror those enjoyed during the marriage. Speaking for myself, I think it is fair to expect that there will be a significant drop in lifestyle post divorce.
    To be honest, it is all very confusing, if one barrister is arguing ‘needs’ as basic needs and one is interpreting ‘needs’ generously then it would seem like a very grey area.
    Maybe there should be clear legislation which sets out a formula governing the way maintenance is calculated so both parties can predict at the outset what position they can expect to find themselves in at the outset. Even as I write the words I can see how difficult that would be given that no two cases are the same. But better guidelines than those which exist at present must surely be possible?

  4. Jan says:

    Rachel, The ex wife works only 25 hours a week and despite the judge telling her to get a full time job she still only works 9-3, 5 years on We are not very wealthy and have had to go into debt to do home improvements.
    She was also able to save £15000 in Isas and afford a barrister whereas my husband was a litigant in person as we couldn’t afford representation.

  5. Yvie says:

    How would you define ‘need’ in relation to CSA payments, particularly if both parents are working and their incomes are roughly similar.

    With shared residence orders for example, a father could have his children for 50% of the time. His bills are exactly the same for him, as the children’s mother. Rent/mortgage has to be paid, children have to be fed and cared for. Clothes have to be provided, often several times a year as they grow, bedrooms have to be furnished with beds, wardrobes etc. They need possessions around them when they are with dad as well as when they are with mum. These don’t come cheap. On top of this, dads, like mums, will try to provide treats such as the cinema or a meal out now and then.

    No benefits are paid to dads – in fact despite having a residence order they are still taxed as single men with no dependants. Why is that I wonder, when a shared residence order indicates that they do have dependants.

    There is only so much money in the pot, but if dad is paying his way and mum is paying her way, there should be no need to call upon each other or the State for extra support. The benefits which are paid to mothers such as Child Benefit, Working Tax Family Credit and Child Tax Credits are fairly generous, plus there are extra allowances such as child care expenses for working mothers.

    No account of income is taken by the CSA. I think that both sets of income should be taken into account before CSA is calculated, and I would include all the benefits that mothers receive in that calculation.

  6. Yvie says:

    Just an afterthought. I think the CSA should pursue the absent parent vigorously without any charge to the other parent. However, if parents cannot come to an amicable agreement between themselves regarding fair child maintenance, then the CSA, if contacted, should be able to charge for the service.

  7. Churchill says:


    your particular case sounds odd and unbalanced, in the ex-wife’s favour, but that doesn’t mean the system is wrong; Rachel’s case specifies a very different outcome.

    After the needs of any dependent children are accounted for the judge will try to start the divorcing couple on as equal a financial footing as possible. This can be very complicated. Often the three major joint asets are the family home, the combined pensions and combined earnings. In terms of liquidity alone, these are very different assets and so dividing them equally is more art than science.

    As far as needs are concerned the extablished principle is that they will be generously assessed. However, only in cases where there are sufficient assets to meet the resonable needs of both sides is this really relevant. Where there isn’t and compromise has to be reached, the aim surely has to be the same as that I mentioned above – a new start on an equal financial footing. However, where the husband earns significantly more than the wife, that has to be taken account of – possibly by the wife being awarded the lions share of the assets, the husband able to retain the majority of his income going forward and possibly his pension too.

    I am totally unqualified in this area, but having read a lot of judgements post White/Miller/McFarland, it isn’t too hard to get a feel for what are classified as reasonable needs and how the court will apply the measure.

    It’s so important to get good legal advice and it is a shame that there is no meaningful legal aid for this. The ability of heavy hitting spouses who can employ experienced barristers against a LIG is more of a concern for me. It seems that many Judges look to assist LIGs where thay can in Court, but that can’t really make up for the preparation a good leagal team can bring. If there’s any inequality in the system, it’s got to start with how heavy you can punch in Court.

  8. Frustration Mounting... says:

    I’m all for ensuring ex spouses are provided for in the first few years of separation and the spouse with the income (or higher income) provides a sound affordable contribution for child maintenance.
    However I don’t see as a modern day society where we are continually promoting equality for both sexes that a ex spouse can indefinitely continue to refuse to work rather than begin to provide for themselves.
    My partner’s ex spouse has refused to go back to work after being separated for 6 years even though all the children are now at secondary school, get themselves to and from school alone and are left in the house alone. There appears nothing we can do.
    We are not against paying his ex-wife a ‘top up income’ to ensure she receives a good standard of living (as well as not decreasing child maintenance) and taking into account the fact she did put her career on hold to raise the children, even though she received the higher proportion of assets to compensate her for this. However there is something wrong when a woman in her forties claims she is helpless to generate any income of her own accord to ease the burden of maintenance and there is nothing we can do to force her.
    There should be measures where a woman is given a period of time to start earning income rather than the law treating them as poor defenseless individuals. We’re not living in the 1800’s!

  9. Churchill says:

    What you describe sounds reasonable for the case of your ex. However, most individual cases have elements of fairness/unfairness in them. The point is that judges have a wide discretion and after taking into account all the circumstances of the case, made a judgement. However, circumstances change over time. If it’s reasonable for the ex to work – even part time, then she should be encouraged to do this. That should result in a reduced periodic payment order. Your partner will probably have to apply for a variation to the original order, which I understand is about as problematic as going through the original ancillary proceedings. The judge will decide if it’s reasonable now for the ex to be expected to find some work – whatever that pays should form the basis of the reduction your partner will continue to pay; the top up income you saw as reasonable. The period of time for wives to find work cannot be pre-ordained, as each individual will have different circumstances to deal with. The ages of dependant children will also affect this timescale. You haven’t mentioned affordability re your partner? If he was on £30,000 we might draw one conclusion, £130,000 a totally different one. For those who want wives to stand on their own feet, financially speaking after a set period of time, ask yourself this question. Is it fair for the higher earning spouse – take the £130,000 husband scenario – to enjoy a far higher standard of living than the wife – even if it is years after the divorce/fiancial order? Our law makers clearly don’t think so.

  10. Frustration Mounting... says:

    Thanks for the advice Churchill. My partner is a high income earner, that said, his current monthly income after spousal & child maintenance and school fees is 30% of his net pay, and 16% less than hers. She has approximately £1M in equity in the house, he has close to £100K debt arising from a period of unemployment where he took a lower paid job after being made redundant where the maintenance payments equalled his entire income. His capital (which was all wrapped up in shares) was whittled away with paying school fees over that period.
    He is back in a well paid job now but obviously paying off his debt and beginning to build up capital so he can eventually get back on the property ladder is important. He can’t do this at the levels he is currently paying. Any further advice welcome!

  11. Churchill says:

    Given what you say, a trip back to a solicitor seems the right way to reopen the debate about what is fair. From a timing perspective it might have been ideal to seek to overturn or adjust the original order when your partner took the lower paid job. To have nil income after servicing maintenance is clearly not meeting the ‘fair’ objective. Added in to that the costs of servicing the debts he built up should be taken into account – so long as these were accrued reasonably. Unfortunately the process of getting the consent order reviewed is not much less time consuming than the initial ancillary proceedings, so you’ll need to make a judgement call regarding the relative benefits and costs. Good luck.

  12. Lukey says:

    “Thus if people wish to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, and they are fully informed and advised, then their autonomy to do so will be respected by the court even if they later change their minds. They will also be held to their decision, provided that needs have been met.”

    This is absolutely right, but it is shameful that our legal system has been dragged kicking and screaming over decades to try and get to this point (and we are STILL not there yet).
    ‘Needs’ should be the absolute generic minimum, and no pre-nup prepared by a sensible lawyer would ever be going below that threshold anyway.

    If ‘needs’ is not the very basic living standard then expensive lawyers will be paid to circumvent the pre-nups – it has to be very clear.

  13. Observer says:

    Pre-nups serve one good purpose, in that they oblige parties to consider the reality of divorce and what happens thereafter, and therefore make one think again.

    Ideally, though, parties need to think about these things well in advance of that stage.

    Instead of poking its nose into private affairs after divorce, the state should be focusing on educating young persons about the damaging effects of divorce beforehand, and getting them to realize that divorce is a form of child abuse.

    Let’s be honest: pre-nups are just yet another way of making couples dependent on lawyers. They are not binding, never will be. How could they be?

  14. DT says:


    There is no correlation between divorce and child abuse.

    You don’t have to use lawyers – you choose to, and with good reason.

    If pre-nups were a waste of time, then they wouldn’t be used. They are incredibly persuasive when entered into correctly, when each party has taken advice etc.

  15. Observer says:

    All children want their parents in their lives, and to stay together, and get along, and be happy. (To be sure, that’s not always possible, but that is another matter….) It therefore follows that denying children that wish is a form of abuse – one of the worst, I would venture. That abuse is extended through the process of litigation, with the help of lawyers and a broken family justice system.

    Those who would deny that that divorce is abuse are either being dishonest or malicious, I’m afraid. They are the kind that think it is okay to use the other party for sex or sperm (both of which are tantamount to a form of rape, especially if you go by the Swedish definition of the latter), and then dispose of what is no longer needed thereafter.

    The reason you choose lawyers if you are female is because they are free. The reason you choose lawyers if you are male is because you know that if you don’t, you will have your relationship with your kids demolished.

    Pre-nups are only used by the green. Anyone who has been around the block will tell you they are pointless.

  16. Marilyn Stowe says:

    ‘Pre nups are only used by the green….they are pointless.’ Katrin Radmacher might disagree?

  17. DT says:

    The majority of children do indeed want their parents to remain together, come what may – however, not all do.

    Some are so profoundly affected by things that go on at home, that following s47 enquiries*, it is evident that some children do not want to be with either or both parents, (admittedly, this is not mainstream).

    Sometimes it is not in a child’s best interest to live with/see a parent and sometimes, it’s just not possible. Couples may be harming children more by staying together “for the children”.

    Divorce is not abuse and I am neither malicious nor dishonest. It is difficult for many who are still raw from the process to be objective.

    What evidence do you have to support the notion that women choose a lawyer based solely on the principle that they are free? I disagree. I think the some women choose a lawyer because that lawyer has a Legal Aid contract. However, some women who have a greater level of disposable income may choose not to use a lawyer who undertakes publically funded work. On a general note, I think that women are very discerning when it comes to choosing a lawyer.

    I disagree with your comment that pre-nups are for the “green”; they are not. Marilyn has covered them quite a bit on this blog – have you read the posts?

    Such implacably hostility towards solicitors means that it is impossible for you to be objective about the profession.


    *Under s47 the Local Authority has a statutory duty to carry out enquiries when there is information to suggest/confirm that there are child protection concerns/a child has or is likely to suffer significant harm.

  18. DT says:


    Apologies, I meant to say “implacable hostility” – I was typing too fast and hit send too early in error.

    Marilyn beat me to the ‘Radmacher’ point; however, it sums up just why pre-nups are valid AND more and more people are taking them up!

    Do a search on this blog for pre-nups, read the articles and then say if you still stand by your ‘green’ claim.


  19. Observer says:

    Interesting misuse of the term ‘implacable hostility.’ I have no difficulty being objective about the profession, thanks very much, as I am more or less within it. There are some lawyers who are very child-centered, and those are the ones to be applauded. However, there is far too much abuse going on, and proper accountability is nonexistent. Even if you want to claim that lawyers do not encourage dishonesty and falsity of the wickedest kind, you’d still be left with lawyers who seem to think their allegiance to implacably hostile parents trumps the ethics of what should ideally be a child-centered practice. A system that is rotten to the core, right off the bat, just produces more rot, doesn’t it?

  20. DT says:


    I’m quite happy with my use and understanding of the term. Admittedly, it’s usually used about a parent, often a mother, however, it can and indeed is used in other situations too, but then you’ll probably know that. The phrase is used in proceedings but not exclusively so.

    You’re either in the profession, or you’re not.

    Lawyers have to act in the best interests of their client WITHIN the rules and the majority do. Most lawyers are very ethical.

    The system might not be perfect, but it certainly isn’t rotten. It’s a work in progress. It’s changing and adapting.


  21. Observer says:

    For those it serves, it is indeed a very profitable system, yes.

    That profit has become a measure of how successfully children’s lives are brokered is a tad miserable though.

  22. DT says:


    You’re describing a world I don’t recognise. I cannot relate to anything you’re saying. I don’t know what experience you’re drawing on, however I cannot connect to what you’re saying.

  23. Observer says:


    I think if you refuse to believe that the current family justice system has failed more children than it has served, you would have to be in a different world.

    This is not about expecting perfection; it’s about expecting sanity though, at the very least.

    But I think we’ve moved off topic, I’m afraid.

  24. Alison says:

    Beginning at the top; I have experience at both ends of the spectrum. I agree wholeheartedly with Jan. It is a completely outdated system that creates dependency by one person upon another for life. This perpetuates the grief and embitterment and drags the children forever through the detritus that remains following Divorce. There MUST be a clean break system whereby all parties are properly provided for. It is totally unreasonable for an ex wife to claim ongoing maintenance. The CSA provides a structured payment system for the children until they are 18 and that is quite sufficient. I know this. My children have benefited from this. The mere fact that a woman (usually) has been married to another for a period of time should not create a lifetime of dependency. Pull yourself together girls and just get a grip and get on with it.

  25. Marriage in black and white - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] *That they provide for each partner’s needs […]

  26. JamesB says:

    I feel that it is wrong for the court to discount hidden funds such as trust funds, and conduct. A client claiming poverty who is running up tens of thousands of pounds of costs is undermining the system. Also a claiment who has abused their partner and contributed little to the marriage should not be rewarded the same as someone who worked hard for it. Not easy to resolve sadly, especially with divor e on demand which is the main problem. The solution is scrap divorce on demand or make pre nips compulsary.

  27. JamesB says:

    Pre nups, not nips.

  28. Rupert Murdoch’s wife hires new divorce lawyer - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] it provides for each partner’s needs – the nearer to meeting “reasonable” needs, the […]

  29. Jane says:

    Understanding my periodical payments would be like a breath of fresh air , there is a date on there but also there states joint lives , not sure what that means . Is it until my death or from the dates stated .

  30. David Cooper says:

    I am just about to go back to court for a final hearing since my ex-wife has applied for a ‘for life’ extension to her spousal maintenance.
    After the initial hearing 4 years ago, the judge awarded my ex-wife the full proceeds from the family home (£200,000), £25,000 from savings and maintenance of £1200 per month for 3 and a half years. He said this was to allow her time to re-train or seek better paid, full time employment as she was only working part-time. She had never worked full-time as I had foolishly allowed her to be a stay at home mum to bring up HER two girls (yes, from a previous marriage). Once the girls were teenagers I tried to get her to work full-time but she continually made excuses and as a loyal husband I never pushed the issue.
    I was not responsible for the marriage break up – she was – and yet I suddenly found myself with a new £200,000 mortgage at 48 years old no savings or pension and paying her £1200 per month.

    I had hoped that, after the 3 and half years it would all stop. Especially as her girls have left home an are independent. However, she has never bothered to seek better paid, full time employment and says this is because she is suffering from depression. We had a provisional hearing and the court have sent her to be assessed by a psychiatrist (2k at my expense!) who has confirmed she is depressed. However, her depression is caused, obviously, by the fact she has to get used to standing on her own two feet for once in her life. Also, the report is based purely on all the lies she has told him and a multi-choice questionnaire that anyone could answer to convince that they are depressed. I do find this a complete joke but my barrister is warning me that this could all go in her favour. Oh, and I have recently been told by her brother that she hid a further £25k from me that she had prior to our marriage but did not declare – yet my barrister has said the judge is unlikely to now make this a consideration.
    Marilyn, whilst I do see that there is an argument for ‘meeting needs’ surely you have to agree that the courts tend to favour the lower earning ex-wife. It seems that they have no interest that the amount paid in spousal maintenance is equivalent to all that is currently wrong with our welfare state – i.e. it encourages the recipient not to look for work or better paid employment whilst they can sit on their backside and have someone else pay for them!

    • Luke says:

      David, if the case is as you describe then I feel really bad for you – but I have to ask the question – why did you freaking marry this woman !
      The kids aren’t even yours (!) and your barrister thinks she might win a change to “For Life” support ! how is that possible?
      This woman is trying to bleed you until you die…
      NEVER EVER get married !

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