If you’re considering a divorce, or currently going through a divorce, you may be wondering whether you’ll have to pay spouse maintenance to your ex-spouse. Spouse maintenance is financial support paid by a party to a marriage to their former husband or wife in circumstances where they are unable to adequately support themselves.
In the United Kingdom, making spouse maintenance payments (called alimony in the United States) to your ex-spouse after divorce used to be common, particularly where the divorcing couple were wealthy. However, a new ruling means that this arrangement is far less likely to occur in the future.
Former riding instructor and mother-of-two Tracey Wright, 51, chose not to be a working mother when she split up with top equine surgeon Ian Malcolm Wright in 2008. After 11 years of marriage, the couple’s £1.3 million, seven-bedroom home, set in 16 acres of Suffolk countryside, was ordered to be sold and the proceeds split.
Mrs Wright came away with a £450,000 mortgage-free house in the heart of riding country, in Suffolk, plus stabling for her horse and her daughters’ ponies. Her ex was also ordered to pay her and the two children £75,000-a-year in maintenance and school fees.
However, last year Mr Wright, 59, who is one of the country’s top vets, went to the High Court to seek a cut in his bills. He protested it was not fair that he be expected to keep supporting his ex-wife indefinitely, even after his retirement, whilst she made “no effort whatsoever to seek work”.
A family judge’s reaction was to respond to Mrs Wright with “harsh words.” The mother was told to “just get on with it” and get a job, like “vast numbers of other women with children.”
Since the ruling, time-limited maintenance arrangements were becoming more common. Family lawyers in the U.K. say that they’ve noticed a perceptible shift. As a result, the current expectation in divorces heard across the country appears to be that wives should only receive support for such a period of time which, it is felt, allows them to retrain, if necessary, and find work rather than remain dependent on their ex-husband into the future.
This will seem to be the case unless the wife can prove there is a good reason why she can’t work such as a disability, or if a child has special needs for example.
A Test Case on Spouse Maintenance in Australia
A Melbourne woman has lost her bid to force her husband’s extremely wealthy — and often philanthropic — family to keep her in style after the divorce. The case, which came before the Federal Circuit Court in July, was seen as a test of whether someone who marries into a rich family can force that family to take care of her when the relationship ends.
The husband, who cannot be named but is known in court documents as Mr Kaiser, was described as being “a member of the (omitted) family, well-known prominent business people and philanthropists in Melbourne”.
Federal Circuit Court judge Judy Small said Mr Kaiser’s “family heritage and its possible implication for his financial capacity” were “central to the proceedings’’. The court heard the two were married in 2000 and have two children, aged 16 and 10, who have lived week-about with their parents since the divorce in 2013.
The wife told the court she wanted her ex-husband to buy her a house “with a minimum of three bedrooms and sufficient area for the children and a large family dog”. She also wanted him to pay the rates and bills; buy her a $40,000 car; sign over his superannuation and pay school fees.
The husband told the court his only assets were an $8000 second-hand Subaru and $39,000 superannuation, while his income was $100,000 a year plus an annual gift of $50,000 from his mother. His mother was paying his legal fees, by then $133,000.
The wife argued her former husband had “access to significantly greater financial resources than he discloses’’. The court heard she was “focused almost entirely on trying to prove … Mr Kaiser, through his family, had the financial resources to buy her and the children a house, as well as paying spousal maintenance.”
However, Judge Small ruled that, under the Family Law Act, a wealthy family is not responsible for keeping a wife in comfort after the marriage ends.
How is Spouse Maintenance Calculated?
The key factors in determining spouse maintenance are the payee’s ability to meet his or her own reasonable financial needs and the financial capacity of the payer spouse to pay spouse support. Usually there must be a large discrepancy between the incomes of the parties. Generally, a mere difference in income will not suffice – the gap has to be significant.
Some additional factors that the court considers in a potential spouse maintenance order are:
- The ages of the parties;
- The health of the parties;
- The ability of each party to work;
- What constitutes a suitable standard of living;
- The effect of the marriage on a party’s ability to earn income; and
- In some cases, if one party is caring for adult or disabled children.
Spouse maintenance is not payable for life. Instead, it is considered “rehabilitative”. What this means is that it is designed to be a temporary order to get the party receiving maintenance through a temporary period of their life. Usually a spouse maintenance order would not be for a period of greater than 2 years and in that period the payee would be expected to retrain and become self-supporting. The payer of spouse maintenance can be either spouse and is gender-neutral.
Payment of spouse maintenance can be paid on a periodic basis such as weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Spouse maintenance can also be paid by lump sum as part of an overall property split.
Our experienced family lawyers will always seek achieve a low-conflict resolution during divorce. For your free, 10-minute phone consultation, please contact us today.