If you have been reading the news about the end of the “meal ticket for life” divorce case of Mr and Mrs Mills and you are either getting divorced or are a divorcee you may be concerned about the question ‘’am I entitled to spousal maintenance?”. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume from some of the press coverage of Mr and Mrs Mill’s financial Court proceedings that spousal maintenance is an old fashioned concept and that after their divorce spouses will, in future, have to stand on their own two feet and be financially independent of one another.
A careful read of the Court decision in Mr and Mrs Mill’s case reveals that the question “am I entitled to spousal maintenance” is still a very valid question.
How does the Mills decision affect the question ‘’am I entitled to spousal maintenance?’’
Why has Mr and Mills case hit the headlines? In the Mills case the dispute was over whether Mr Mills should pay his ex-wife increased monthly spousal maintenance payments. When the couple split up the Court ordered Mr Mills to pay spousal maintenance to Mrs Mills. In addition the Court gave Mrs Mills enough capital to buy a house. Fast forward nearly a decade and Mr Mills wanted to reduce the spousal maintenance payments and Mrs Mills wanted the spousal maintenance payments to increase as she’d made unwise financial investments and was in debt and renting a house. She therefore argued that as she had increased outgoings she needed more spousal maintenance to meet her basic needs.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the original level of spousal maintenance payments must continue but that they won’t be increased. So, those who say that the Mills case stops the ‘’meal ticket for life’’ are wrong. However the Mills case and other recent Court decisions do show an increased concern on the part of the divorce Court to really analyse if spousal maintenance should be paid and if so the amount of the spousal maintenance and how long it should be paid for. This is with a view to both husband and wife in appropriate family situations, being able to achieve financial independence of one another.
We can’t agree on if I am entitled to spousal maintenance. What can I do?
If you can’t reach an agreement over the amount of spousal maintenance then you can make an application to Court. The Court doesn’t have a set formula to say how much, if any, spousal maintenance should be paid. The Court has a lot of discretion to make what orders it thinks appropriate.
The Court can also order lump sum payments and property transfer orders. These are separate but linked to spousal maintenance orders. This means that the less capital that a husband or wife receives then the greater the probability that they may need spousal maintenance in order to meet their income needs.
Reaching a financial settlement is a bit like putting a jigsaw together as it is important that the capital, pension and income settlements meet needs. Back to the Mills case, one of the strong reasons behind the Court decision not to increase Mrs Mill’s spousal maintenance payments was the fact that at the time of the first financial proceedings Mrs Mills had been given enough cash to buy a house and so if she’d used the money wisely she wouldn’t have needed more spousal maintenance to pay her debts and rent. The Court concluded her ex-spouse shouldn’t be penalised by her poor financial decisions a decade after the marriage had broken down.
If I am entitled to spousal maintenance how long will the spousal maintenance last for?
The Court can order different types of spousal maintenance or no spousal maintenance.
Joint lives maintenance is often called the ‘’meal ticket for life’’ spousal maintenance in the media. Why? It is because the spousal maintenance continues throughout the joint lives of the payer and the payee until further order of the Court or until the payee remarries. A husband or wife can apply back to the Court to change the amount of maintenance payable upwards or downwards if there is a change in circumstances. It is also possible for the payer to apply to the Court to stop the spousal maintenance payments if there is a change in circumstances.
Term spousal maintenance continues for a set number of years. The level of spousal maintenance can be changed before the term expires (but not afterwards). The term or length of time that spousal maintenance is paid for can be extended by the Court although there must be a good reason to do so and the application must be made before the term maintenance order expires.
Term spousal maintenance with a bar is exactly the same as a term spousal maintenance order save that the length of time that the maintenance is paid for cannot be extended.
Clean break order is when no spousal maintenance is payable. If the Court makes a spousal maintenance clean break order then a husband and wife can’t make a maintenance application, even if there is a change in their personal financial circumstances at a later date.
I am worried about if I am entitled to spousal maintenance. What should I do?
The best thing to do is to get some early legal advice. Why? If you are entitled to spousal maintenance then an urgent Court application for what is known as ‘’maintence pending suit’’ may be necessary. Even if your situation isn’t urgent it pays to get legal advice so that you understand what steps need to be taken to ensure that you are either able to negotiate spousal maintenance; get a Court spousal maintenance order; or apply to change the amount or extend the time that spousal maintenance is payable for. In some situations that involves looking at your ex-spouses income and financial circumstances and in others looking at your outgoings, career prospects and family circumstances.
For information or advice on any aspect of family law or to discuss your entitlement to spousal maintenance or to review an existing spousal maintenance order please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email at [email protected]