When a marriage or civil partnership comes to an end one of the questions that will have to be answered is whether one of the parties will be forced to pay ‘maintenance’ payments to the other and if so to what value and for how long? In the following paragraphs we explore these questions in more detail.



How Long ?


The law in England and Wales does not limit periodical payments to a maximum period so a party can be forced to make them indefinitely. The length of the maintenance payments ordered by the courts will depend on all of the circumstances of the case.


Naturally periodical payments will terminate on the death or remarriage of the individual receiving the payment. However, a periodical payments order is unaffected by the remarriage of the paying party, save that remarriage could prompt an application to discharge or reduce the order due to a change in financial circumstances for instance. 


How Much ?


The amount of maintenance to be paid by one spouse to the other will depend on a number of different factors and a case-by-case approach will be taken by court. Figures cited in reported decisions are not of great assistance as there are rarely two cases with identical facts. One variable, however, will always be of great importance and that is the existence of minors. If there are young children to provide for this will always have a great impact on each party’s needs and resources.


In high income families the starting point is always that a ‘fair’ result must be achieved. Where there is an unusually large amount of money involved the level of maintenance will more than likely be judged by the standard of living the parties became accustomed to during the marriage and what should therefore be expected after the separation based on those standards set during the marriage.


The determination of how much should be paid in maintenance payments is a complex calculation dependant on the individual facts of each case so it is always advisable to seek specialist legal advice.


Varying Maintenance Payments


What might seem like guaranteed income can be altered if there is a significant change in circumstances. Either the paying or receiving party has the ability to return to court to seek a change in the amount of maintenance being paid if either party has suffered a significant change in their financial circumstances.  


However, with an application to vary a maintenance order comes a risks for both parties and it is therefore, not something that should be embarked upon lightly:


  • Uncertainty – the law provides the court with a high level of discretion as to how to shape a solution in a particular case so it is very difficult to predict the outcome of any case.


  • Costs – the court proceedings can be very expensive and the cost-benefit ratio should be kept in mind at all times.


The order may go up or down so it is highly recommended that proper legal advice is sought prior to embarking on any attempt to vary a court order for periodical payments. The courts are also becoming less keen on making orders for long-term, substantial maintenance, so this should be considered when looking to re-negotiate or increase the periodical payments that are currently being made.


How Can We Help ?

Judge Sykes Frixou has a wealth of experience in this area and should you require any further guidance on this or a related matter we would be delighted to assist so please do not hesitate to contact our reception and ask for the Family Department.

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