Spousal Maintenance Orders: an unnecessary meal ticket or an important tool to provide continued financial support
This blog considers whether or not the tide is changing following the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Waggott and Waggott .
What is Spousal Maintenance?
As part of a financial settlement upon divorce, the court can make an order for one spouse to pay the other maintenance, either by way of periodical payments or as a capitalised lump sum. These orders are usually made to assist the recipient to meet their financial needs whilst adjusting to financial independence.
Periodical payments can be secured against capital assets if there is doubt over the payers willingness or ability to pay. They can be limited to a short period or made for the longer term. The latter are often referred to as ‘joint lives’ orders and have been described by some as “a meal ticket for life”.
Spousal Maintenance v. Clean Break
Spousal maintenance is often a contentious topic amongst divorcing couples. It can be an appealing prospect for a spouse with a lower earning capacity, who due to childcare commitments or a career break during the relationship, has been dependant on the other during the marriage and needs some financial assistance going forward. However, such orders can be contested by the spouse with greater resources, who may seek immediate financial independence.
The court is required to consider whether or not a clean break is appropriate as part of a financial settlement. This dismisses all potential claims that the spouses can make against the other. It severs all financial ties, save child maintenance. A clean break is sometimes appropriate following a short marriage, or if the parties’ future financial needs can be met through the division of matrimonial capital alone.
Where are we now?
At best, the law around spousal maintenance can be described as unpredictable. At worst, it is contradictory and unfair. Due to the court’s discretionary nature in this area, legal arguments can be created to support either side of the fence.
The recent Court of Appeal case of Waggott and Waggott  has taken the stance that enough is enough, and shows support for a swing back against over generous orders made at first instance. The wife was initially awarded a lump sum of £9.76 million and ongoing maintenance of £175,000 per year. However, following cross appeals made by both parties, the court reduced the Wife’s’ original maintenance to a three year term order.
“If capital has been equally shared and is enough to provide for need and compensate for disadvantage, then there should be no continuing financial provision.”
The decision made in Waggott has been positively received by both legal professionals and the public. However, it is unclear whether or not this will mark a long lasting change in the tide.
When considering divorce, is essential that specialist legal advice is obtained about spousal maintenance and financial matters generally. Such advice must take into account the individual circumstances of the case.
At Lupton Fawcett, the solicitors in our Family Department have a wide range of expertise in family law and can offer a bespoke service tailored to the individual client. For an initial discussion, please contact Samantha Gunnell on 01904 611411.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.