With the cost of living continuing to rise, is it possible to change an existing maintenance order?
When agreeing a financial settlement as part of a divorce, spousal maintenance tends to be one of the most common controversial issues to resolve. Maintenance, whether it be agreed between the husband or wife or ordered by the courts, however, is always capable of being varied.
Maintenance can go upwards or downwards or stop completely. For any change to happen, one of the parties will need to show that there has been a significant change in their circumstances. One such change is a significant increase or decrease in either party’s income.
With the world still coming to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine, an international recession seems inevitable. According to The Money Charity, in January 2022, people in the UK owed £1,767.1 billion, up by £62.2 billion from January 2021, an extra £1,176.40 per UK adult over the year. Amid this cost-of-living crisis, there will be an increasing number of people wanting to change their spousal maintenance – either because they cannot afford to pay it or because they need a greater sum.
What exactly is spousal maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is a regular sum of money paid by a husband or a wife to their ex-spouse following a divorce. It is usually paid monthly and lasts for a set number of years. Traditionally, it was not unusual for the courts to order that spousal maintenance was payable for the remainder of the parties’ lives. However, the last ten years or so has seen an evolution in how the courts approach the subject and there is a general presumption that maintenance should be set for a period of no more than five years.
It is entirely discretionary, which also means it is fundamentally uncertain. On the other hand, child maintenance is more certain. Child maintenance is a regular financial contribution towards a child’s living costs when one of the parents does not live with the child. It is governed by statute and the amount to be paid is primarily calculated using a set formula. By its very nature, it is therefore predictable.
All spousal maintenance orders can be varied
Spousal maintenance may be uncertain but that is partly because life is also unpredictable. It would be impossible for a divorcing couple, or the courts, to cover every possible eventuality when deciding how to implement a maintenance order. Maintenance therefore must have the potential to change depending on the parties’ circumstances at any given time.
As well as a significant increase or decrease in either party’s income, other changes in circumstances which can lead to a variation in maintenance include:
• One party receiving an inheritance;
• One party retiring from their employment;
• The recipient of the maintenance marrying or entering into a civil partnership (or in some cases, cohabiting with a partner).
Regardless of the change in either of the party’s circumstances, for those cases which are dealt with by the courts, the judge’s first but not only consideration will be to assess the needs of any minor children who are involved.
How can I change an order?
In most cases, parties agree (albeit usually with the help of family law solicitors) as to what to do when their financial circumstances have changed. In those situations, there is no need to involve the courts other than for a judge to approve the revised order to ensure that it is reasonable and enforceable.
Where agreement is not possible, either party has the option to make a court application to vary or discharge a maintenance order. Depending on the circumstances, this course of action can be considered essential by the applicant. However, given the uncertain nature of court proceedings and the potential legal costs involved, any such decision should be taken cautiously. Contact a specialist family solicitor to discuss options.
We can provide specialist family law advice to you if you are considering varying a maintenance order. We are specialists in matrimonial finance matters and financial settlements. There are many additional aspects in this area which can prove to be critical when determining variation of spousal maintenance. If you have any questions about the issues mentioned here or any other related family law matters, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our experienced solicitors are available to help.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: email@example.com or telephone: