What is spousal maintenance?

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When a married couple divorce or a civil partnership is dissolved, spousal maintenance may be paid to a former spouse to support their income needs if they are unable to support themselves without assistance. This is either ordered by the court or agreed between the separating couple.

In this blog, our specialist divorce solicitors lay out the circumstances for spousal maintenance payments and the factors that affect them.

Is spousal maintenance the same as child maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is not the same as child maintenance. Child maintenance is obligatory and is calculated using the Child Maintenance Service Calculator. It considers the paying parent’s income, the number of children living with them, and how often the children stay overnight with them.

On the other hand, spousal maintenance is most likely to come into play in situations where one former spouse has significantly lower income or assets than the other spouse and is unable to support themselves without assistance. The amount and frequency of spousal maintenance will vary from case to case.

Who is entitled to spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is used to assist in achieving a fair outcome when it comes to divorce and separation. Spousal maintenance will only be appropriate where one party is unable to financially support themselves independently from their former spouse.

There are several factors which will determine whether you are entitled to spousal maintenance, such as:

  • Whether there are any children under the age of 18.
  • The available resources of each party.
  • The standard of living during the marriage.
  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age of each spouse.
  • Whether there are any physical or psychological disabilities.
  • The financial needs of each party.

How is spousal maintenance calculated?

There is no set formula for calculating spousal maintenance. This will be decided on a case-by-case basis and will largely be based on what the spousal maintenance recipient requires to meet their needs and the amount which the paying party is realistically able to pay.

Reaching an agreement on spousal maintenance might not be straightforward for you and your former spouse, but there are various ways in which you can do this. These include:

  • Discussing spousal maintenance with your former spouse.
  • Attending mediation with a qualified, independent Mediator, who will help you in reaching an agreement.
  • Instructing a divorce solicitor. We can advise you on your best options, negotiate on your behalf as necessary, and assist you in reaching a financial settlement.
  • Applying to the court for spousal maintenance if you are unable to reach an agreement through the above.

Whichever method you use to try to reach an agreement, it’s always a good idea to seek advice from an experienced Divorce Solicitor.

It is also important to note that an agreement will not be legally binding unless it has been recorded within an Order and approved by the Court.

Can I vary the amount of spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance can be adjusted if either party’s circumstances change over time. For example, if one party loses a job, or a child is born, the amount of spousal maintenance can be varied, either by agreement between parties or by making an application to the Court.

The Court has the power to either increase, decrease or capitalise spousal maintenance. Capitalising spousal maintenance means that a lump sum will be paid to the other former partner, instead of monthly payments. This is why it’s so important to seek expert legal advice before agreeing on any change to spousal maintenance with your former spouse, or before making an application to the Court.

When will my spousal maintenance end?

Spousal maintenance can be awarded for a fixed term or, in some cases, for life. The length of time over which maintenance will be paid depends on each case. Our specialist divorce solicitors will be able to advise you on your case and support you in getting the best outcome when it comes to spousal maintenance.

If your maintenance is being paid for a specified period, there will usually be trigger events which will end the spousal maintenance. This includes:

  • The agreed term of spousal maintenance is reached.
  • The youngest child of the family reaches a particular age.
  • The youngest child of the family leaves full-time education.
  • The recipient of spousal maintenance remarrying.
  • The recipient of spousal maintenance passing away.

If spousal maintenance is paid, can there still be a clean break?

A clean break means that the financial obligations between you and your former partner are terminated, and no further claims can be brought within your matter. The court has a duty to consider a clean break in all cases.

Where spousal maintenance is being paid, the clean break will be deferred until the maintenance ends.

How to apply for spousal maintenance

If you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on the amount of spousal maintenance that should be paid, you can apply to the court, and ask the Judge to decide how much spousal maintenance you should get. Spousal maintenance is not appropriate in every case, so our divorce and separation solicitors recommend that you take legal advice at an early stage. It is always better to try to reach an agreement if possible. It will save you money and will likely be quicker than a court application.

Contact our expert divorce solicitors

Divorce and separation can be stressful and intimidating, especially when finances are involved. Our specialist divorce finance solicitors can advise you on your options and help you get the best outcome when it comes to spousal maintenance.

To speak to our dedicated team in Bristol about spousal maintenance, contact us on 0117 253 0344, or complete our online enquiry form.


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