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Spousal maintenance – is it a meal ticket?

It still comes as a shock to many divorcing couples that there may be an ongoing obligation for one of them to provide maintenance for the other after divorce. This obligation exists in those cases where one party has a much better income than the other and where a financial dependency has been established during the course of the marriage.

The Courts will always consider whether they can achieve a clean break but this can often only be achieved if the party with the greater income is prepared to pay a significantly larger capital sum to buy off the spousal maintenance claim.

What many people find hard to accept is that where there is ongoing maintenance, this obligation is not brought to an end automatically when their former spouse is cohabiting with someone else. In such circumstances, an application will usually be made for the maintenance to be reduced or brought to an end, but this decision involves consideration of the financial circumstances of the other party and their cohabitee.

Some parties may suggest this looks like a ‘meal ticket’. However, the reasoning behind it is that if the other party is living with someone who has negligible income, then this doesn’t necessarily mark any improvement in their financial circumstances. On the other hand, even if their financial situation is improved, the relationship could come to an end and they would be back in the position they were in following divorce. Consequently, even where there is a reduction in the amount of maintenance, the Court may not be persuaded to bring the obligation to an end.

Unless a Court Order is made dismissing maintenance claims either on the divorce or after a fixed period, maintenance only automatically comes to an end in the event of the remarriage of the recipient or the death of either party.