Spousal maintenance is a payment made by a husband, wife or civil partner to their former spouse or partner following a divorce. It is usually paid every month, either for a set period or for the rest of the parties’ lives. It intends to cover living costs for the lower-income party if they cannot become self-sufficient right away. This could be due to not having enough financial assets to support themselves or not securing sufficient funds through employment.
The arrangement automatically stops when one party dies (the latter circumstance is known as a ‘joint lives order’) or if the recipient remarries or enters into a new civil partnership. The amount of spousal maintenance being paid can also be altered or dismissed by the courts under certain circumstances. Spousal maintenance payments are not the same as child maintenance and are intended to support the standard of living of the divorcing person in receipt of the financial settlement. The courts can award them after either a short or long marriage or civil partnership.
How is spousal maintenance calculated?
There is no set amount required by law when it comes to working out how to pay spousal maintenance. Each award is based on available income and resources for both parties. Day-to-day financial commitments on both sides will be taken into account, including child maintenance obligations and an amount agreed, along with the length of time it should be paid. Commitments include but are not limited to aspects of living, such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, school, clothing and food costs for children, debt repayments and more.
Another aspect is whether spousal maintenance affects universal credit (UC). Child maintenance payments are currently not considered when tax credit entitlements are being calculated. However, under current UC arrangements, spousal maintenance is regarded as unearned income for the purposes of the tax credit assessment. Therefore, it will result in a ‘pound for pound’ reduction of your overall UC. Any lump-sum payments received after a divorce that are under £6,000 will not be taken into account.
As all of this depends on individual situations, legal advice from a solicitor specialising in family law should be sought at the start of the process to ensure the best possible chance of reaching a spousal maintenance agreement that is acceptable to all.
For a better idea of the types of spousal maintenance payment amounts that could be involved, check out a spousal maintenance calculator online. This will give you some suggested figures around what you might need to pay for or be entitled to spousal maintenance. Family mediation services are also available if a divorcing couple cannot reach an amicable agreement.
Can spousal maintenance be varied?
The exact amount of spousal maintenance can be varied according to changes in circumstances. It can be revised over time, either upwards or downwards, to align with financial situations. This can happen if the person paying has a shift in their income, such as after securing a new job, income loss, or retirement.
The recipient can also ask to have the amount awarded to them in the spousal maintenance order reassessed if their situation changes. Either party can apply to the courts as well to have the payments capitalised, i.e. paid as a single lump sum, rather than as ongoing monthly payments. Each party is responsible for informing the other of any changes to their financial situation, both good and bad.
Separately, minor maintenance can also be awarded in England and Wales as a means of financial support. This is for cases where no substantive spousal maintenance is required, but it may be in the future. It can also be paid to the primary carer of any children from the marriage or partnership as a safeguard to any changes in circumstances that would adversely affect the care and financial support of the child(ren).
This type of future planning arrangement can provide more of a clean break for both parties without the need for repeated negotiations around maintenance amounts.
How do I apply for spousal support?
If you consider applying for spousal maintenance as part of a divorce settlement, speak to a specialist family law solicitor firm for more targeted advice. An expert will be able to talk you through your options and work out roughly how much support you might be entitled to receive.
It is also far more effortless and reassuring to have the support of a family law solicitor when the case reaches the courts, rather than having to go it alone at what can be a stressful time for all concerned. Contact Shortlands Solicitors to book an appointment to discover your options and ask questions.