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A comprehensive guide to spousal maintenance

Navigating the complexities of divorce can be an emotionally draining experience.

One aspect that often causes confusion is the issue of spousal maintenance and there are many myths and fallacies surrounding the subject.

This guide aims to provide a clear and detailed explanation to help you better understand what spousal maintenance is, how it is calculated, and the factors that influence its determination.

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, also known as ‘spousal support’ or ‘alimony,’ is a financial arrangement wherein one spouse pays the other a regular sum of money following separation or divorce.

This is usually done to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a similar standard of living to that enjoyed during the marriage.

It’s worth noting that spousal maintenance is different from child maintenance, which is exclusively for the support of children.

When is spousal maintenance applicable?

Spousal maintenance comes into play when there is a significant disparity in the earning capacities of both spouses.

Typically, the higher-earning spouse will be the one required to make payments.

However, spousal maintenance is not automatic and will only be awarded if one party can demonstrate genuine need and the other party has the financial capacity to make payments.

How is it calculated?

Calculating spousal maintenance can be complex and is generally based on several factors including:

  • The needs of the receiving spouse
  • The paying spouse’s ability to contribute
  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • Age and health of both parties

The amount is often decided through negotiation between the parties, usually with legal advice, or determined by the court if an agreement can’t be reached.

The court may also take into consideration any benefits that one spouse may lose because of the divorce, such as health insurance or pension contributions.

Types of spousal maintenance

There are different types of spousal maintenance arrangements:

  • Periodical payments: These are regular, ongoing payments that are usually made monthly. The payments could go on indefinitely or for a fixed term, depending on the circumstances.
  • Lump-sum payment: A one-time payment that eliminates the need for ongoing financial ties between the parties.
  • Secured maintenance: This involves securing the maintenance payment against a property to ensure it is paid.
  • Clean break: In some cases, the court may decide that no ongoing payments are necessary and will issue a clean break order. This means both parties are financially independent of each other, and no further maintenance can be claimed.

Factors that influence spousal maintenance

While every case is unique, the court generally considers several key factors when determining spousal maintenance:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • Contributions made by both parties during the marriage, including care for children or elderly relatives
  • The current and future earning potential of both parties
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • Any conduct that might affect the settlement, although this is a rare consideration

Variation and termination

Spousal maintenance is not set in stone and can be varied or terminated due to significant changes in circumstances, such as:

  • Remarriage of the receiving spouse
  • Significant changes in income
  • Retirement
  • A new child in the family
  • Death of either party

When to seek legal advice

Spousal maintenance arrangements can have a lasting impact on your financial future, so it’s advisable to seek legal guidance as soon as the issue becomes relevant to you.

Specialist Family Law solicitors can provide expert advice tailored to your specific situation, helping you navigate the complexities of spousal maintenance and secure a fair settlement.

Spousal maintenance is a complex area of family law requiring careful consideration of numerous factors so an experienced solicitor on hand is always advised.

Whether you are the one paying or receiving, understanding the legal landscape can empower you to make informed decisions that align with your financial well-being and future goals.

If you are concerned about spousal maintenance, speak to one of our experts.

Stuart Daniel

Head of Family Department

I qualified as a Solicitor in 2006 and now specialise in divorce, financial settlements, childcare arrangements and Pre Nuptial Agreements. I have many years’ experience as a private family lawyer having worked with two other local firms before returning to Mander Hadley, where I first undertook work experience during my university studies.