Proposed changes to spousal maintenance

The Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill reached the committee stage in the House of Lords last month. Seeking to amend the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in relation to financial settlements following divorce, the bill aims to introduce a fixed-term limit for spousal maintenance. As no changes were suggested to the bill in the House of Lords, a motion was agreed that the bill progress directly to the third reading; known as ‘order of commitment discharged.’

The bill proposed by Baroness Deech, states three main amendments should be made:

  1. to restrict the circumstances in which spousal maintenance will be paid and its term;
  2. to adopt a narrow definition of “matrimonial property”, capital which will be susceptible to equal sharing on divorce, whilst protecting “non-matrimonial property”, regardless of needs; and,
  3. to give a statutory footing to (increasingly popular) nuptial agreements, albeit erring on the side of respecting parties’ autonomy rather than cross-checking against fairness.

What are the current laws on spousal maintenance in England and Wales?

After you divorce your partner, you may be entitled to financial assistance. Spousal maintenance is a regular payment made by your former partner, however, it is only paid if one party is not in the position to support themselves financially without it.

Some factors which will affect the amount you receive can include:

  • How much you need to live on
  • How much income you already have
  • How much you could potentially earn in the future

How long you can receive payments from your partner will usually depend on how long your marriage or civil partnership lasted. If you were together for under five years, you may only receive spousal maintenance for a short period – a ‘term order’ – or you may not have rights to any financial help at all. If you have been married or in a civil partnership for a longer period, you could be entitled to spousal maintenance for life – ‘joint lives maintenance’.

How does England and Wales maintenance laws differ from the rest of Europe?

One of the main reasons for the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill is because ‘joint lives maintenance’ in England and Wales is at odds with the rest of Europe where payments are usually capped. In Scotland, for example, maintenance payments tend to be limited to a three year period whereas, in countries such as France, payments would typically last for around eight years.

This open-ended payment was seen only recently with the Mills v Mills [2018] case. The Court of Appeal awarded Mrs Mills an increase on her monthly maintenance payment (from £1,100 to £1,441 per month) from ex-husband, Mr Mills, 15 years after her divorce. The Judge ordered the increase because Maria Mills was “unable to meet her basic needs.” Despite the Supreme Court later ruling that Mrs Mills was not entitled to the increase because of her own financial mismanagement following the divorce, Mrs Mills continues to receive £1,100 per month from her ex-partner – a ‘meal-ticket for life’ as some have called it.

However, there is hope that the indefinite maintenance orders are starting to decline after the ruling on high-profile case Waggott v Waggott [2018]. Both Kim and husband William Waggott were married in 2000, had a child in 2004, before divorcing in 2012. Mrs Waggott had not worked since 2001, while Mr Waggott continued a successful career which gave him an annual salary of £3m by 2014. Mr and Mrs Waggott agreed to divide their £16m capital assets equally but could not agree on the wife’s entitlement to the husband’s future income. Mrs Waggott was awarded £9.76m and £175,000 in annual maintenance payments for life. When the judge ordered Mr Waggott to make periodical payments to cover the balance remaining on Mrs Waggotts’ capital payments, both parties challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal. Judges then dismissed the wife’s appeal to increase her annual pay-out, imposing a term order which will expire on 1 March 2021.

Contact Lindsay Jones Specialist Spousal Maintenance Lawyers Lymm, Knutsford & Wilmslow

For first-class and proactive family law advice on spousal maintenance following a divorce, please get in touch with Lindsay Jones via the online enquiry form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *