Posted by Charlotte Prideaux, Solicitor
How long do maintenance payments last? Are they a ‘meal ticket for life’?
Supreme Court Justice Lord Wilson has recently suggested that many wives in long marriages should be entitled to a “meal ticket for life” (ongoing maintenance payments) from their ex following a divorce.
His comments come several weeks after businessman Graham Mills was ordered to increase monthly maintenance payments to his wife after she spent the settlement lump sum awarded to her in financial remedy proceedings 15 years ago (2002).
The courts approach in recent years has been to encourage parties to gain financial independence following a divorce and therefore to limit maintenance payments to a fixed period. This is to enable the financially weaker party to get back on their feet and afford them a period of time to retrain, look for work or increase their hours to full time, with the aim of adjusting to financial independence. This approach has been supported by Baroness Deech, who has called for there to be a three year cap on the majority of maintenance payments.
How are maintenance payments calculated?
Lord Justice Wilson’s suggestion may apply in some situations. For example when the parties are at or nearing retirement age, it is not usually appropriate to expect the financially weaker party to return to work or agree to work for an indefinite period of time, provided there is reasonable pension provision for both. Much depends on the responsibilities of the non or lower earning party. If they have several children, maybe requiring special care or if they have a disability, then it could be argued that they should have longer term maintenance until pensions pay out. Every case is different.
However in today’s society, given the need for gender equality in the workplace and the fact that many couples both work to make ends meet, it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which the non or lower earning party should not be expected to work full time after a period of adjustment or retraining if they are capable of doing so. Our Family Law solicitors have found that many of our non-working clients aspire to work full time and/or retrain to gain financial independence as quickly as possible following a divorce so that they can stand on their own two feet and draw a line under matters.
The courts have certainly indicated this would be their preference and continue to proactively pursue the clean break approach.
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