Spousal maintenance is when you have agreed, or the court has ordered that one spouse pay the other an income every month. Spousal maintenance aims to help the financially weaker party adjust to their financial position after divorce.
The courts would expect the final arrangements to be fair with the idea that both parties, particularly in a long marriage, should have the same kind of standard of living as each other after the divorce.
This often happens if one spouse was reliant on the other for financial support and cannot support themselves financially without this assistance. For example, if one spouse was the primary financial earner but the other had to stay at home or had a limited income as they were looking after children.
In this situation, the person at home may argue that they are entitled to spousal maintenance as they cannot support themselves financially now that the marriage has ended. Spousal maintenance is only applicable for married couples, and it is more common for couples who have been married for a long time in contrast to short marriages.
If spousal maintenance is payable, the amount and length of maintenance would need to be agreed upon. For example, the wife would pay the husband £500 a month for three years.
The financial settlement can also include conditions on the maintenance payment, including if the spouse who was receiving payment lived with a new partner for six months or remarried, then the spousal maintenance would end earlier.
If you have children involved, the spousal maintenance is separate from any child maintenance assessment that you can calculate on the child maintenance website.
Can men get spousal maintenance?
One default assumption lies behind both types of maintenance: that men pay them, and women receive them. In this, they reflect old social norms in which husbands were the ones who went out to work and brought home the paycheque, while their wives stayed at home and looked after the children.
Times have changed and those old social norms have now become stereotypes. Most women now pursue a career even if they marry and some become very successful. This has raised the question over whether courts should award spousal maintenance at all. But as things currently stand, it is possible for a husband to get spousal maintenance in situations where the wife was the main breadwinner. Talk with specialist divorce law firms like Stowe to find out more.
Clean break divorce vs spousal maintenance
A clean break means that you wish to end all financial ties or claims between you and your ex as soon as possible upon divorce. If you have a clean break, there will be no spousal maintenance to be paid.
You can opt for a complete clean break which can include all capital, pension and income claims.
Or, you can have a clean break on capital, in that you are ending all claims against each other in terms of assets, property etc., but you keep your claims open on income, for example, if one of you is financially supporting the other by paying spousal maintenance.
The only way you can obtain a clean break is to have a financial order that the Court has approved. This also prevents your ex-partner from making any further financial claims against you in the future. A solicitor for divorce can help you arrange these orders and present them.
Capitalising maintenance payments
Another option for those who want a clean break immediately is to choose to capitalise your maintenance. This means you acknowledge that there is spousal maintenance to pay, but instead of paying it monthly, you pay a lump sum as part of the financial settlement and then have a clean break.
This can only occur if there is enough money to effectively “buy out” the other person’s maintenance claim. If a clean break were included, this would mean that neither party could make any further income claims against the other.
Capitalising maintenance payments may be attractive for one party if they want the security of a lump sum and do not want to rely on their ex paying them a monthly amount.
It can also be beneficial to the paying party; for example, they expect their income to increase in the future, so they would prefer to end the claims now through a clean break rather than keeping them open.
Reaching a spousal maintenance agreement
You can come to an agreement with your spouse either with or without the help of specialist family law solicitors. Whether legal help is necessary for you depends on your motivations, your partner’s motivations and whether the divorce is an amicable one. Direct conversations between you and your ex-partner regarding how you wish to divide the matrimonial assets, income and pension may be the approach you wish to take.
You should consider whether the amount will be recorded as a fixed amount or a percentage of the spouse’s income. For example, will it consider any future bonuses or pay rises? What happens if the person who is receiving the payment starts to earn a greater salary themselves?
Spousal maintenance should be dealt with at the same time as the financial settlement. Avoid dealing with any element of the financial settlement in isolation, as agreeing on one aspect may have direct consequences upon another. This is particularly important if you are considering whether there are sufficient funds to capitalise your spousal maintenance.
Spousal maintenance agreements in high-conflict divorces
A financial settlement upon divorce can be negotiated and agreed upon through alternative methods/ADR:
Mediation, where a qualified independent mediator creates the right environment to have progressive conversations to reach a financial settlement.
Solicitor correspondence, when your family and divorce lawyer has an active role, including exchanging financial disclosure with your ex or their solicitors and then being able to advise you on possible settlements and negotiate on your behalf.
Collaborative law or round table meeting involving your solicitors as a form of hybrid between mediation and solicitor correspondence so that you, your solicitor, your ex and their solicitor all attend a meeting together and aim to try a reach a financial settlement.
Court proceedings may be necessary if you are unable to reach a financial settlement with your spouse. Arbitration and private court hearings can also be discussed as other available options at this point.
Please remember that regardless of how you reach an agreement, it will not be legally binding until you have had it drafted into a financial order, also known as a Consent Order and had it approved by the Court. Please also consider insuring your spousal maintenance payments if you are receiving this from your ex-partner. This can be done via a life insurance policy.
Avoiding spousal maintenance
The courts used to have a “Joint Lives” order when the paying party continued to make payments until either they or their ex-partner dies. However, these are now very rare, and the courts are increasingly opting for fixed-term maintenance payments which are reasonable and specify the length and amount of maintenance. As such, attempting to avoid spousal maintenance is not as necessary as it once was.
It is also possible to get spousal maintenance increased or decreased at a later date if circumstances change. It is also possible to put a “bar” on the spousal maintenance, preventing the other person from making any further applications to the Court to vary the amount or term of maintenance they receive in the future.
This might not be applicable for all cases, particularly for cases with younger children when the courts may consider it appropriate that the spouse could return this matter to the court if circumstances were to change.
What happens when spousal maintenance stops?
If there is a court order in place, no one can simply stop paying without the court order itself being discharged. To do so puts the payer in breach of the order, rendering him or her potentially liable to pay arrears and interest on the unpaid amount and costs of collection. Worse still, the payer is liable to be committed to prison for non-payment. Those who stop paying usually do so because they calculate the payee will do nothing about it. The payer knows that the payee has to go through official channels and necessitate further legal advice and arrangements, which are potentially time-consuming and expensive.
The first step is to request, ideally in writing, that payments recommence. Should this fail, the payee can apply in the High Court (or County Court depending on the sum due) for a “Pay Up” summons using Form D50K. The court can make wide ranging orders for payment of the arrears by a variety of means as either you or the court wants. These can include ordering payment by standing order and obliging a person to open an account to make the payment, having first been given an opportunity to do so.
Bear in mind that if arrears are more than 12 months old, the payee would first need permission from the court to collect them.
Other ways to enforce spousal maintenance
It is possible, if you prefer more certainty in the future, to apply for an attachment of earnings order against the payer’s employers or to simply request the issue of a bailiff’s warrant for the amount outstanding.
In more difficult cases, it is also possible to apply for the appointment of a Receiver and a charging order against property such as land or securities or even money held in court and then apply for a sale of the charged property. It is even possible to for the court to issue a Judgement Summons which carries with it the threat of imprisonment if there is non-compliance. As a divorce solicitor firm, our specialist lawyershave extensive experience in all aspects of spousal maintenance, including actions such as these.
Spousal maintenance calculator (UK)
There are several factors to consider when calculating how much spousal maintenance should be paid. This includes the amount, the term and any conditions of payment.
As part of the financial settlement process, you and your spouse should always exchange full financial disclosure so that you are both satisfied that you have a complete and thorough understanding of the marital pot. This should include an income and expenditure budget so that you can roughly calculate what you both may need monthly once the divorce has occurred and you are living separately. You can also use this to compare your income needs and what maintenance may be realistic based on the income and projected income available. It is impossible to properly calculate a fair spousal maintenance agreement without full disclosure.
Contact Stowe Family Law, specialist divorce lawyers
We are Stowe Family Law, the nationwide family lawyers with a local touch. As a specialist family law firm, working with couples to agree on a fair level of spousal maintenance is our bread and butter. With offices around the country including in London, Manchester and Birmingham, you can always find a ‘divorce lawyer near me’.
You can call us over the phone at 0330 056 3171 if you’d like to talk family law services, or if you need us to work around your schedule, request a free call back at a time that suits you.
Excellent service, diligence and professionalism. Got an overwhelming victory against a malicious case brought against me. Can’t recommend highly enough.
Client: Mr L
Rachel Fisher is always extremely well prepared and she offers her clients sensible and considered advice. Rachel is always focused on getting the client the best possible outcome.
Client: Legal 500
I found the firm very friendly and available when I needed them. They gave me great advice and got me to the result that I needed. I would firmly recommend them for their expertise in divorce matters.
Client: Mr W
Gareth Curtis has been representing me for the last 13 months in a very challenging divorce. At my very first meeting with Gareth, I was immediately put at ease and felt confident that he would achieve the best outcome for me. Gareth has great attention to detail, is very responsive, caring, understanding and remains calm and professional at all times. I would highly recommend Gareth if you are looking for a divorce lawyer who will guide you through the process with ease, whilst fighting for the best outcome. You really are in good hands with Gareth
Client: Ms C
Stowe Family Law provided an excellent service in relation to a very difficult divorce. They were supportive both professionally and personally. Kate Rayner is an outstanding solicitor and she managed my case perfectly. I have the utmost respect for her and her team. They genuinely cared about me and my outcome. I would highly recommend them.
Client: Mrs R
I have been represented by Nicola Beasley...since last year. She has been incredibly helpful, professional and diligent in her work on my case, which is complex and unusual. She has been very thoughtful and resourceful within suggestions about how to move things forward for me in all areas of need, and also drawn on the other areas of expertise the firm have to assist me. Nicola is warm and always goes above and beyond to assist me in any way she can.
Client: Miss C
May I thank Nastassia for such excellent service and support in my recent divorce which led to a successful outcome. Nastasia’s pleasant and caring nature was always appreciated at such an emotional time and kept me focused on the main issues. Her detailed knowledge, prompt attention to detail and professionalism were absolutely first rate. Together with our Barrister, Charles Eastwood, what an impressive team. Thank you. I can thoroughly recommend Nastassia.
Client: Mr H
Mark Christie provided me with exceptional support throughout a very difficult divorce. His professionalism and robust attention to detail are second to none. He gave me hard facts alongside solid advice and guidance throughout the whole process. His robust and pragmatic approach was reassuring and I certainly felt Mark shouldered the burden of my divorce allowing me to sleep at night knowing I had an excellent solicitor acting for me. I will always be grateful to Mark and would highly recommend him, more so I'm certainly grateful he was in my corner!