Placing a time limit on maintenance payments made by a man to his ex-wife would not be appropriate, a judge has ruled.
In Murphy v Murphy, the couple had lived together for two years before marrying in 2007. They went on to have twins and the wife gave up work to look after the children. But in April last year, the couple separated and the wife, seven years older than her husband, filed for divorce.
At the High Court in London, Mr Justice Holman noted:
“… so the context here is a case of an enduring relationship of about 8 years. That is not, of course, a particularly long one, but nor is it an especially short one amongst those marriages and relationships which, sadly, later break down with separation and divorce.”
During subsequent negotiations, the former couple reached agreement on most financial issues, including division of their assets and pension sharing. The wife would receive ‘periodical payments’ – ie spousal maintenance – and the husband would also pay the twins’ nursery fees. However, they could not agree on whether or not the periodical payments should decrease over time or whether there should be a specified end date, and they took these unresolved matters to court.
The judge praised the couple’s ability to reach agreement on most issues, describing this as very commendable. The wife was keen to return to work as a teacher, having previously established a career in retail, and she suggested that she might be able to do so from September 2017. The husband argued that the maintenance payments should be reduced by £9,000 per annum from that point. The former couple’s legal agreement already included a provision that he be credited with 50p for £1 his wife were to earn.
But the judge described these suggestions as “highly speculative and probably not realistic”.
He had asked the husband’s counsel what type of work the wife might be able to obtain, the judge reported.
“[The husband’s counsel] was only able to answer in very vague generalisations, that she must be able to obtain full-time employment somewhere and maybe in Twickenham [where she lives]. I asked what sort of hours. He suggested 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., which, of course, would be likely to involve leaving home at least at 8 a.m. and be home not earlier than 6 p.m., even if she obtained work locally in Twickenham. I asked how this could be reconciled with proper childcare for these young twins, who require to be taken to school and picked up from school during school term time, and require to be cared for throughout the day during school holidays, except in those periods when they stay with their father. [The husband’s counsel] has no answer.”
A specified end date for the maintenance payments would not be appropriate, he concluded. The wife was in a “precarious” financial position with few savings and a restricted ability to earn money. Therefore the existing maintenance agreement would remain in place, but it would include a clear ‘recital’ [statement] of the wife’s intention to “obtain the best paid work that she reasonably can”.
Read the full judgement here.