Spousal maintenance is an amount of money the family court orders to be paid by one ex-spouse or civil partner to another following a divorce or civil partnership dissolution. The purpose is usually to protect a spouse who has previously been dependent on his or her partner’s income.
Maintenance might be paid for a specific period of time or until a particular event (such as the recipient remarrying). Although this is rare, a spousal maintenance order can even be made for joint lives i.e. until either of you dies. However, the court always has a duty to consider whether a clean break can be achieved and typically tries to limit how long maintenance is paid for. Sometimes maintenance can be capitalised, which means it is set for a specific term but paid all at once.
Whether ongoing maintenance is appropriate depends on your and your partner's needs, ages and whether you are caring for children. There are no set formulas: the court looks at the situation in the round, considering all available income and everyone’s needs (which can be generously interpreted when there are sufficient resources). The court will also consider future earning capacity. If you or your partner haven't worked but can do so, the court would normally expect any earning potential to be used as far as possible.
Usually maintenance will stop if the recipient remarries, although not automatically if you cohabit with a new partner unless specifically agreed. The court can also impose an end date on any maintenance payments and stop you or your partner applying to extend the term.
The family court should take exactly the same approach regardless of whether the couple is in a different-sex or same-sex relationship. If one partner has been dependent on the other’s income then the same considerations apply in respect of whether a maintenance order is appropriate. However, in reality the family court has a great deal of discretion in individual cases, and that means that a great deal will depend on the particular judge if finances are not agreed. We specialise in helping LGBT clients and can advise you on your particular circumstances.
The court can dismiss claims for maintenance as part of a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, and that prevents any future claims. However, if a maintenance order has been made and remains alive, it can always be varied – upwards or downwards. If your or your partner's financial circumstances change, you can apply to court to vary the amount of maintenance paid.
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