Spousal Maintenance – fixed term or for life?

Relationship breakdown

posted: 21st May 2018

In recent months, a debate has arisen in respect of spousal maintenance awarded within matrimonial proceedings.

On Friday 11th May the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill (HL) received its second reading. This Bill proposes to make amendments to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and to provisions in connection with financial settlements ancillary to divorce. The main areas the bill seeks to change are:

  • Orders limited to matrimonial property (this will include property, pensions investments etc.),
  • Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements (so that the same are legally binding except in certain circumstances),
  • The division of matrimonial property,
  • Periodical payments and lump sums and

If you wish to review the Bill in its entirety, it can be found on the Parliament website.

In respect of periodical payments and lump sums, the Bill seeks to limit maintenance to a fixed period of five years to allow the party receiving the payments to adjust to the loss of support from the other. This reform is supported by Baroness Deech who believes the system should be more like that in Scotland. In this regard, the case of Villiers –v- Villiers was before the Court of Appeal and dealt with maintenance, considering whether or not English or Scottish law should apply. You can read our blog on this matter by clicking here.

The Bill goes on to state that maintenance can be extended to a longer period if the recipient party would suffer serious financial hardship. How will this be defined and determined by the court? It may be argued that those requesting a maintenance order will only argue that they will suffer ‘serious financial hardship’ if their award is less than the five year fixed term.

It cannot be said that ‘one size fits all’ when considering maintenance orders and therefore restricting maintenance to a fixed term could be deemed unfair. Although the law remains the same for each case, those engaging within the process may have entirely different circumstances which can determine the outcome of a case.

It was stated by Baroness Deech that the Bill will bring about ‘better opportunities for mediation, less need to go to court, reduced trauma for children, lower costs, an easier time for litigants in person and a fairer outcome recognising partnership in marriage’.

Certainly, it will be interesting to note the outcome of the Bill and what affect it will have on Family law and its implementation by the courts.

If you have any queries and wish to contact and expert team of family solicitors, get in touch with PMC Family Law on 0151 375 9968 or email .

By: Lindsey Potter - Paralegal