Spousal maintenance application to proceed

Family Law|May 10th 2016

A former husband’s application to change a spousal maintenance agreement should not be struck out, the High Court has ruled.

The case concerned a former couple who married in 1992 after living together for a number of years. The wife had two children from her previous marriage. In the Central Family Court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mrs Justice Parker noted:

“The marriage broke down fairly soon after its celebration, the parties separated, and the wife eventually brought what are now termed financial remedy proceedings. The husband continued to maintain the wife after the separation.”

The wife’s children remained on good terms with her former husband. They are all now adults and work in his businesses.

Eventually, in 1999, a settlement was agreed. This specified that the former husband would continue to pay maintenance until his ex-wife either remarried or a further court order was made, as specified by the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act. If she did remarry, the payments would continue under the terms of the settlement, but they could no longer be enforced by court order under the 1973 Act.

The agreement stated:

“…in the event of the Petitioner’s remarriage and notwithstanding the provisions of clause 1 of the operative part of the order below, the Respondent will continue to pay or cause to be paid to the Petitioner during their joint lives periodical payments at the rate in force immediately prior to the Petitioner’s remarriage; such payments to continue both to be paid as aforesaid monthly in advance in favour of an account nominated by the Petitioner….”

The man continued to make payments “without demur” for 16 years, before suddenly ceasing to pay in September last year.

The wife’s solicitors wrote a letter indicating plans to begin court proceedings in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, on the basis that the maintenance payments constituted a “civil debt”

These had originally been agreed in lieu of a lump sum payment, that would have been calculated on the basis of the woman’s expected lifespan without taking into account possible remarriage.

The husband’s solicitors then made a sudden application to change (“vary”) the maintenance payments agreement. The wife countered by arguing that he had no reasonable cause to do so.

Mrs Justice Parker explained:

“She says that there is no jurisdiction to entertain such an application. The husband disagrees and says that the payment is based on the agreement to make ongoing provision which he is entitled to apply to vary.”

The Judge continued:

“[The wife] says the husband cannot seek to vary the [original maintenance] order, as it has come to an end [due to her remarriage], or seek to vary the original agreement…Therefore, there is no power to vary because there is now no power to make an order in her favour after her re-marriage and the arrangement is part of the court order.”

She applied to have the husband’s applications struck out (dismissed by the court).

The husband’s legal team set out a number of reasons for his unwillingness to continue paying, including the suggestion that it had been partly dependent on the ability of his businesses to continue generating the funds.

In addition:

“Most importantly for the purposes of this application is his case that he needs now to have access to the funds represented by the obligation to make periodical payments to support his relationship with his present wife; and his case that the wife and her husband J are now financially sound and do not need the payments so that continuation of the order is unfair.”

The wife disputed his claims of “financial constraint”, but the Judge rejected her argument that his application should be struck out, instead ruling that it could proceed to a further hearing.

The ruling T v R can be read here.

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Comments(4)

  1. spinner says:

    So after a few years of marriage he ended up paying 16 years of spousal maintenance, what a joke this current system is and to think that some people who are heavily invested in this system, let’s call them lawyers defend this system as somehow being fair.

    In the US alimony laws are changing and several high profile cases including “The Hoff” himself are creating a lot of publicity and the vast majority of that is against unlimited lifetime alimony.

  2. JamesB says:

    Married for less than 5 years, probably unable to rid himself off supporting her for loads of money for rest of his life 20 years after separating and ongoing. F’ing stupid bad wrong system.
    I too think law is indefensible, which is why it is behind closed doors and not open to the public. I am also surprised by how lawyers seem to believe what they say when they stick up for it.
    It was a confidence trick, like much by lawyers, including the Iraq war. I think people see it for what it is increasingly now and it needs to change, including with prenups as people see it as a con and to be avoided.

  3. JamesB says:

    Until this dodgy law (1973 MCA) is changed then people will continue to vote with their feet and avoid marrying as that is the only way to avoid being stitched up and that is a pity.

    Time for lawyers to stop patting each other on the back and wake up and smell the coffee and pull their fingers out of their backsides and change the law so people can get married more please as I would prefer my children to be married then not and currently is a mess. I cannot recommend marriage to them without a pre-nup in this country and that is not possible under the law that it will be binding. So, like so many they live at home or in house share or in flat and are not as happy as they could be and also puts a strain on house prices and availability added to the two homes from one nature of divorce also and nature of cohabitees splitting up more likely than marrieds and welfare net and CSA/CMEC/CMS/CMOptions encouraging single parent families and breakdown of society. Family law is really F^%king up this country and needs to be changed asap, preferably to the Scottish model please. Its like politicians being corrupt and in the pockets of the lawyers and the international bankers scaming the property market in London buying all the property for too much and laundering their money and rent through it offshore paying little to no tax and taking the money out and putting up prices. We all know these are issues yet the establishment does nothing about it, time they pulled their heads out of their arses and become more representative before the country gets rid of the lot of them and we end up with sharia law or other popular dodgy political party with dodgy ideas.

    Lets have something sensible instead please.

  4. Andy says:

    Spinner covered most of the sensible argument.
    How on earth can this draconian law be applied from one short marriage to yet paying for the rest of his life either death or up to…could only stop this demand.

    Yet again how can one person pay for another persons life style.
    Example if the male party could claim this spousal maintenance it would be even but in today’s law this never happens but reverse this in the female example and it happens.
    So why so unequal!!. Well it’s easy judges always support the female because they can lie better and then cry….
    Spousal maintenance is one big joke..that’s why this country is one big joke…

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