It was recently reported that the cost of living crisis is deepening as inflation rates hit approximately 7%, even though there is not an increase in people’s wages. The UK has been facing a period of economic uncertainty for the last few years as a result of many factors such as Brexit, the pandemic and more recently due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rising energy prices.

As family lawyers this is relevant to us as we will have clients who either already have maintenance orders in place or clients who will be looking to have a maintenance order in place as part of their divorce. At present, the law on divorce is based on each party’s future needs and so there is usually a consensus that where one spouse has a higher income than the other, or where the parties adopted the ‘traditional’ roles of breadwinner and home maker, there may need to be a period of ongoing financial support to avoid the added strain of the change in circumstances.

As part of the separation both parties will therefore need to consider whether or not they will have enough income each month to meet their outgoings on a monthly basis.

Spousal maintenance is a payment that is made by either the Husband or Wife to their former spouse as part of the divorce. The payments tend to be made on a monthly basis but can also be made as a one off lump sum payment. The amount and duration of the payments should be agreed by both parties. These can be made for a defined period of time or alternatively can be for the rest of your former spouse’s lifetime.  The former is quite rare and is referred to as a ‘joint lives order’.

Spousal maintenance orders are not the same as child maintenance orders as the former is paid for the benefit of your former spouse and the latter is paid for the benefit of any children of the marriage.

The payer of the maintenance may find themselves struggling to keep up with the ongoing maintenance payments as a result of the economic crisis and the increase in living costs. This does not however mean that they should stop making the payments or should make reduced payments as to do so will mean they are in breach of any existing Court orders. A variation of spousal maintenance occurs in circumstances where there is a change in the payer’s personal or financial circumstances.

If you are struggling to make the payments or are not receiving the amount of maintenance that had been agreed and recorded in the Court order, then you will need permission from the Court to vary or enforce the terms of the order.

You and your former spouse can agree and record the change in the maintenance payments in one of the following ways: –

  • By way of a direct agreement between you;
  • By instructing a Solicitor to assist you with your negotiations;
  • By making a referral to a family mediator to assist you in reaching an agreement; and
  • Issuing a formal court application to vary the terms of the existing maintenance order, as a last resort.

Spousal maintenance orders will come to an end if the payer remarries or either one of you dies, unless a further order is made by the Court which brings these payment to an end. When considering whether the payments should be brought to an end, the Court will consider whether or not the payer will suffer undue hardship due to the change in circumstances.

Our specialist family law solicitors at Edwards Duthie Shamash Solicitors can advise you if these ongoing factors will affect the amount of maintenance that you are entitled to. They will also be able to consider the facts of your case and advise you if you need to vary the amount of maintenance you are paying. If you are in doubt about the amount of maintenance you are paying or receiving, or wish to discuss your financial matters arising from your separation please contact  us on 0208 514 9000 or e-mail farah.naz@edslaw.co.uk.