Judge rules out time limit on payments for wife

Divorce|July 18th 2014

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.

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  1. JamesB says:

    Seems a bit harsh to me. Doesn’t encourage marriage law or divorce law this sort of one-sided settlement.

  2. JamesB says:

    6 year marriage, 8 years living together, lifetime spousal maintenance. Seems harsh on the person paying in question in this instance.

    • Luke says:

      Yup, “harsh” is one word – I could think of others…
      Anyway James, this is how it works in the UK now – so, are you still going to try and sell me marriage as a good deal for men ? 🙂

  3. JamesB says:

    2 years living together before they got married.

  4. Nordic says:

    So, if the marriage fails to last until death parts the parties, at least we can count on the English family courts to ensure that the divorce process will. First we put you thought the most primitive and acrimonious divorce process anywhere in Western Europe, then we bind you together financially for life.

    This appears a patently unfair ruling which is derogative and condescending to modern woman and anybody who supports gender equality. It is what happens when you allow old men from privileged backgrounds to make their own law as they please.

    In the Nordics spousal allowances are rapidly being phased out and are always seen as transitional support and therefore term limited (typically up to a max of 4 years). The underlying principle is that both parties, regardless of gender, are adults who should be expected to take care of themselves post a limited transitional period.

    • JamesB says:

      In Scotland it is the same as Nordics. I don’t know why it is like this in England and Wales. In answer to the question from stitchedup, yes, probably, not like this though, which is why I post on here. Like you, I was stitchedup with a divorce with young children. I think for me if people are to have divorce on demand then let them have their own marriage contracts / prenups, including on child maintenance. The Csa/cmec/cms (child maintenance) need to be scrapped and back to the court on a case by case (non formulaic) way also.

      A stab at the question on why it is like this. Seems routed in the expectations of the rich and that the lawmakers since the needs of the children of divorce can be easily financed as can two properties. So the clause saying the children get looked after first when any doubt goes through with the old men you mention asleep, and then the nrp ends up without home when there isn’t enough to go round, which is what often happens, with massive upset and children upset and nrp upset.

  5. JamesB says:

    A less radical way forward might be to reword the clause about where there is any doubt the person with the children takes priority. Something like, taking it out and giving Judge discretion with mind to the whole issues of the case (excluding conduct) rather than blaming the judge for implementing bad law, which is what has happened here, and elsewhere and is the issue. I agree with Nordics on that.

    I prefer the radical approach of pre-nups and rest as I said in my last post on this at 9:35 though.

  6. JamesB says:

    Better for the nrp and pwc and children to not financially cripple or unfairly upset the nrp or pwc. nrp is non resident parent and pwc is parent with (day-to-day) care, terms used in this subject coined by others rather than me, they are bad prejudicial terms for bad prejudicial law. Mother and father per case should be the terms used as an nrp should not automatically be a bad person which is how I felt I was portrayed in proceedings and how nrps are by court and society, feckless dadbeat etc and is not right.

  7. JamesB says:

    The terms mother and father or the names should be used more and more and the terms pwc and nrp or equivalent should be used less and less also as nrps are not bad people, just normal people, so calling us by our names or as mothers and fathers is more fair and appropriate. For those who don’t understand, when the csa was setup they divided parents into parents with care and non resident parents and labled pwcs as good and nrps as bad and that law and the law on the subject is like that and needs to be fairer as just blaming one half as right and one half as wrong is an over simplistic and not good enough approach.

  8. JamesB says:

    Spelling correction, in the last comment, labeled should have been spelled as labelled.

  9. JamesB says:

    I think the man in question should appeal to the supreme court. I read through the thing referenced and the section 25(2) the judge references is about the children rather than the mother or father and according to the judges order even when they are adults the maintenance continues, that is wrong.

  10. JamesB says:

    If this is not wrong in the law concerned (I think it is and the Judge got it wrong and the man should appeal), then the law concerned needs to be changed.

  11. JamesB says:

    If courts are going to be like this then you need to scrap divorce on demand. It would be better to have fairer settlements.

  12. JamesB says:

    Really annoying this, lifetime spousal maintenance for a 5 to 6 year marriage is bad and outrageous.

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