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Insight | For Individuals

How does the court decide how much spousal maintenance should be paid?

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Facing a divorce can be daunting on a practical level as well as an emotional one. In this article, we discuss the issue of spousal maintenance. If you are going through a divorce, you are bound to have some worries. One of the main concerns is often how finances will be dealt with and whether maintenance will be payable.

You can rest assured that one of the main considerations of the court will be not only whether assets are being divided fairly, but the ongoing financial needs of both parties. Wherever possible, a judge will always try to make sure that you are able to manage on the money that you are awarded.

How is spousal maintenance decided?

Spousal maintenance is a regular payment made by one party to their former spouse to help support them financially if they are unable to do this themselves. In deciding how much should be paid, the court will consider the financial commitments of both parties and what they will reasonably need to cover their anticipated future expenditure.

If one party has given up their career to raise a family, then the court can take into account the effect this has had on their earning capacity. Maintenance could be ordered for a number of years to allow them to restart their career or train for a new job, or in some cases, it could be ordered for life. If the marriage was relatively short, then maintenance is likely to be granted for a shorter period of time than if the marriage was lengthy.

The court has the option to make an order for nominal maintenance. This means that although no payment will be made in the short term, the court could order maintenance to be paid in the future if one party can no longer support themselves.

If the court does not specify when maintenance payments will end, then they will last until one party dies or until the party receiving payment remarries. Living with someone is not always considered sufficient for maintenance to be ended. There is the option to insure against the death of the person making payments so that the other party is not left without financial support.

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In the event that the person receiving maintenance finds a job, then the payments they are receiving could be reduced or ended if they are able to adequately provide for themselves.

Changes in maintenance payments

If either party’s circumstances change in the future, the amount of maintenance payable could be amended to take this into account. If the party making payments is out of work for a while, maintenance could be suspended temporarily. The parties should keep each other informed of any substantial changes that affect their financial situation.

In the event that the person receiving maintenance finds a job, then the payments they are receiving could be reduced or ended if they are able to adequately provide for themselves.

If the parties are able to support themselves at the time of the divorce, then it is more usual for a clean break settlement to be made, with no order for maintenance.

Maintenance for any children of the family is a separate issue.

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