Is it the end of spousal maintenance?

Following the recent landmark case earlier this year, Wright v Wright, in the Court of Appeal, Courts across England and Wales will now be obliged to consider whether any maintenance payments awarded to a spouse on divorce should be reduced and/or come to an end sooner.

The Courts have always had a duty to consider a “clean break” between a husband and wife where possible. However, this case makes it clear that future earning capacity and ability to manage income and outgoings of any spouse should be of huge consideration by the Courts.

The case concerned a husband’s application in 2014 to vary a maintenance order made following separation from his wife. His wife had been awarded £75,000 per annum of maintenance in the divorce proceedings in 2008, of which £33,000 was for herself. The husband’s application was based on the fact that the wife had chosen not to work since (and had made no efforts to) and it was unfair to expect him to financially maintain her for the rest of his working life. Husband was a wealthy race horse surgeon and was approaching retirement age.

The Judge in this case agreed with the husband. He stated that the wife should not be supported for life and it was her duty to attempt to support herself and the children, now that the children were aged over 7 years. The wife appealed this decision, however, it was confirmed by the Court of Appeal who said that the maintenance order was never intended to provide the wife with an income for life and that the husband should not be paying her maintenance forever.

This ruling will have a huge effect on any future cases involving maintenance payments between spouses. It could mean that any maintenance is likely to cease on the paying spouse’s retirement. Spouses can no longer expect for maintenance to last forever or even until the children reach adulthood and sends a clear message that as soon as the children are over 7 years of age, there is an expectation that the primary carer will work. Indeed the message to the wife in this case was very clear – “Get a job”.

Should you require any advice in relation to a similar issue, please contact our Emma Mitchell, who is a partner in the firm and specialises in financial issues following the breakdown of a marriage.