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18th April 2016

Child Maintenance is now settled and, relatively speaking, straightforward in terms of the principles of how much should be paid and when this should stop.

However, the position is far less clear in relation to spouses.  There are several key questions to ask on the breakdown of marriage. Where will I live? How much will I have to live on?  Should I be receiving maintenance or paying maintenance to my ex? If so, when can I be free of this obligation?

The law in this area is riddled with uncertainty.  There are few guidelines on how much should be paid, save that the overriding principle is ‘maintenance should usually only meet a party’s needs, such needs to be generously interpreted’.

This can lead to either inflated expectations, which are little more than a ‘wish list’, and huge resentment in having to pay anything at all to a feckless ex.

A whole range of factors come into play here, one of the most important being the ability to pay maintenance on the part of the paying party.  Everyone has reasonable needs in this context including the person who is to pay maintenance.

One key point is what the actual income of the paying party is.  This may not always be straightforward, particularly when a person has control of assets or benefits from assets which may not always be apparent, for example, via company structures or trusts etc.

There is also a clear expectation amongst the judiciary that people can and should work as soon as possible, and that maintenance should generally only be paid for a period of time to enable a person to adjust without ‘undue hardship’ to the situation post divorce.    Recent case law is clear in suggesting that maintenance should not be regarded as a ‘meal ticket for life’, and should merely be seen as addressing reasonable needs until such time as they no longer exist.

So, if you are caring for children and have a responsibility towards them, this may well affect your ability to work, but that is fact dependent.

In summary, in order to determine whether, and if so to what extent, you may have a valid maintenance claim or indeed be liable to pay maintenance to your former spouse, expert legal advice is required as soon as possible.

Jim Richards. Solicitor, Family department.

Family Law, General, George Ide, News
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