Maintenance after divorce: lifelong meal ticket or ex-marital right?

The case of Tracey Wright, who lost her appeal against a reduction in her maintenance from her ex-husband, highlights an issue that is right at the heart of most divorces; the financial settlement. Spousal maintenance (or more accurately, ex-spousal maintenance) is an emotive issue for parties either side of the fence.

meal ticket black writing on blue backgroundThe original divorce settlement

In the case of Mrs Wright, under the terms of the 2006 divorce settlement she had received half the proceeds from the sale of a £1.3million home, stabling for three horses, and an annual maintenance payment of £75,000 that included school fees. Of that, £33,2000 consisted of her personal allowance.

The husband’s concerns over affordability

Concerned that he would be unable to afford this level of payment after his retirement, her ex-husband Mr Wright applied to have the amount of the maintenance payments reduced. In the initial case, the judge ruled that payments should cease after a five-year tail-off period, citing that there was no reason that Mrs Wright should not get a job.

The Appeals decision

When Mrs Wright appealed against that decision at the Appeals Court, Judge Lord Justice Pitchford dismissed her claim and concluded that divorcees with children aged over seven should “Just get on with it” and seek employment at least on a part time basis. His judgment is rooted in the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973, which states that judges should aim to bring a married couple’s financial claims on each other to a close at soon as possible.
It’s clear from the intense media attention the case has attracted and the judgment made in a similar case (see below) that this could have wide-reaching implications for anyone either making or receiving ex-spousal maintenance payments.

How we can help at LGFL

If you have a spousal periodical payments order made against you and wish to seek our advice, please do contact us. Similarly if you are in receipt of a maintenance order and are concerned about a variation application to change the amount you may receive, do come and talk it through with us.
We have extensive experience in dealing with divorce financial settlements, and we have particular interest in ensuring the present needs and future requirements of children are taken into consideration.

Spousal maintenance: a bitter pill?

In a recent High Court case (SS v NS (Spousal Maintenance), Mr Justice Mostyn made it clear that he regarded the wife’s claim for ancillary relief to be “Speculative, experimental and unfeasible … the product of the great bitterness that the wife feels towards the husband… written with a pen dipped in vitriol.”
His judgment includes some very interesting statements on his views on payments, including why payment should continue to be made until the death of the payee or in the case of secured periodical payments, afterwards as well.
He cites the 1984 amendments to the 1973 act, saying that; “Spousal maintenance should be terminated as soon as it just and reasonable. … This has been described as the statutory steer to an eventual clean break.”
Similarly, a recent Law Commissions report stated that “The transition to independence, if possible, may mean that one party is not entitled to live for the rest of the parties’ joint lifetimes at the marital standard of living, unless he or she can afford to do so from his or her own resources.”
So, it appears that judges are now more of the opinion that a divorce settlement is not for life, and that lifestyle adjustments will need to be made in order to achieve that “clean break”.

Call us for expert advice

If you are concerned that your financial position may be affected by this judgement, do call us. We offer a free 30-minute consultation at our discreet offices set in the Hampshire countryside, just a short drive from both M3 and M4 junctions.