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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Spousal maintenance – what is nominal maintenance and how could it help me?

Following the Bank of England’s recent announcement on 22 September 2022 that they will be raising interest rates to 2.25%, concerned people across the country will be questioning how they will be able to afford mortgage payments going forward.

The impact of the current cost of living crisis will be felt by many, especially by those receiving spousal or civil partnership maintenance, as payments will no longer go as far as they used to. As my colleague, Zoe Rose, explains in her article, both payers and recipients of spousal maintenance may therefore wish review their original orders in the event that there is scope to apply back to the Court for the maintenance orders to be varied in terms of quantum or term of payment. This would apply whether the original maintenance order was for a specific sum of money per month or if it was for ‘nominal maintenance’.

What is nominal maintenance?

Nominal maintenance orders are orders for spousal maintenance at a nominal amount (for example, 5p per year). It is an order in name only as the receiving party would not receive any actual payments from the paying party, to keep these financial claims open in case they are needed in the future.

What is the point of a nominal maintenance order?

Simply put, it is a safety net for the receiving party in the event that there is a significant change in circumstances down the line. By having a nominal maintenance order, the door would be kept open should the receiving party wish to apply to the Court in future (so long as it is during the term of their nominal maintenance order) for their maintenance payments to be increased to a substantive amount.

Nominal maintenance orders are usually made where there are young children of the family but each party is able to support themselves. In these cases, it would not be necessary for one party to pay the other any spousal maintenance but the recipient of a nominal maintenance order would have the option to go back to the Court if their circumstances changed, such as if they could no longer work at the same level due to illness or redundancy. In some cases, nominal maintenance orders could also be made where it looks like the payer has artificially reduced their income during the financial proceedings and there is a concern that they may be able to increase their income again once the divorce / dissolution has been finalised.

Please note however that nominal maintenance orders relate to spousal maintenance only. Where there are children of the family, there will usually be separate maintenance for the children being paid until they reach the age of 18 or completes full time secondary education.

How could this help me?

As my colleague, Claire Burton, explains in her article, either the paying or receiving party can apply back to the Court for their spousal maintenance orders to be varied (either upwards or downwards) so long as the application is made during the term of the payments.

Having the option to apply back to the Court is not any guarantee of success. Whether the application is successful or not will be decided on the individual facts of the case. Applications to increase nominal maintenance in particular are much less common than applications in cases where actual money is being paid by way of spousal maintenance. To be successful the applicant would need to prove to the Court that there has been a significant change of circumstances and that this change of circumstances arises from or is compounded by the parties’ marriage.

Judging whether or not there is scope for making a variation application and increase nominal maintenance to a substantive payment will therefore require undertaking a carefully balanced exercise. Should you require any further advice about spousal or civil partnership maintenance, including whether it would be possible to obtain an uplift from a nominal maintenance order, please contact our specialist family team to discuss how we could assist with your case.

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