Varying spousal maintenance orders
A maintenance Order is always variable to ensure it can react to changes in circumstances. This flexibility is critical when maintenance Orders can be in place for potentially a decade or more.
There are two types of variation:
- quantum (amount of the payment); and / or
- term (altering the length of time over which the payments are made).
Some maintenance Orders are for a fixed term that cannot be later extended, others are for an extendable term.
Much of what is discussed in this article regarding extendable term maintenance would also apply to a ‘joint lives’ maintenance order, the only difference being there is no specified end date.
You can make applications to vary the quantum of the maintenance in all types of maintenance order referred to above. Whilst you can apply to shorten the length of time during which either maintenance order is paid, you can only extend the term of an extendable maintenance Order.
When considering whether a variation is appropriate you need to consider whether there is a material change which justifies the variation. This change could be to either the payer or the recipient of the maintenance. Common examples are:
- the person receiving maintenance starting to cohabit with a new partner (maintenance ends automatically on remarriage but not on cohabitation);
- loss of a job or inability to gain employment as envisaged as part of the maintenance package;
- increased income through new role or promotion;
- medical emergency; and
- windfall such as inheritance or lottery win.
None of these result in an automatic right to adjust the maintenance but are circumstances where it would be right to consider if the change in circumstances warrants a change to maintenance that is paid.
If you are seeking to terminate the maintenance earlier than set out in the original order, you need to be able to demonstrate that the recipient of the maintenance will be able to adjust without undue hardship. If they cannot, then you will be unlikely to secure a change to the maintenance arrangements unless you are coupling this with perhaps a capital payment in lieu of monthly payments.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people’s jobs and income was certainly a time when many considered whether maintenance arrangements needed to be altered. It is anticipated that soaring costs caused by the current cost of living crisis is also likely to result in many needing to consider the impact of this on their income and maintenance arrangements.
If you need help considering a variation of maintenance whether you are the payer or the recipient, please do contact a member of our specialist family team who are more than happy to review the maintenance payments.