Spousal Support Advice

This is not a question about whether or not spousal maintenance would be ordered in my case or for how long it would continue. I've spoken to various solicitors and concluded my case is too borderline for anyone to make a call on it! I've also been advised that it would almost certainly end when my youngest is 18 and be nominal only for quite a while before that. 

What my question relates to though is a worst case scenario. In the event that I was ordered to pay substantive spousal maintenance on a joint lives basis, would that effectively amount to an order that I must maximise my earning capacity until I reached the state retirement age of 68? 

Here's my concern. I do a stressful job with a long commute that I don't particularly like. When I thought my wife and I were going to be together forever, it was always assumed I'd carry on doing this job until the children were grown up and then wind down a bit and do something for fewer hours locally. In divorce, I'm quite prepared to carry on in my current role until the youngest finishes their education but I've never been particularly motivated by money, would quite happily live in a little flat and I would love to do something different when I turn 50 (I'd like to work in the same profession but for something like a charity). I think such a move would be appropriate and better for my health as I got older too. 

My question is if I'm ordered to pay substantive joint lives spousal maintenance, am I allowed to make a career move like this and seek a variation in the amount paid or would I be ordered to go and maximise my earning potential again? Also, in the interests of fairness, if the recipient is only working part time once they have no childcare responsibilities, is it considered reasonable if the payer decides they're going to work the same reduced hours too? 

I think what I'm trying to get my head around is the extent to which my freedom might be curtailed by such an order, up to and including denying me the time to do what I want with my life in order to provide someone else with an income? 
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Comments

  • bouicca21
    bouicca21 Posts: 6,512 Forumite
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    edited 31 March 2022 at 10:23PM
    The place for advice on this sort of issue is the wikivorce forum.  But I’m pretty sure that joint lives maintenance is extremely unusual nowadays, so you are probably worrying for nothing.  Good luck.
  • comeandgo
    comeandgo Posts: 5,742 Forumite
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    My husband had to provide spousal maintenance to his ex wife but it was paid out as a large lump sum as although ex wife wanted to continue in the financial manner she was accustom to judge saw different and she only got funding for a few years.
  • Thanks, I've already been advised that it would be unlikely to last beyond children turning 18 at the absolute latest and probably sooner than that as there is no reason she can't work. 

    However, it got me thinking and I guess I'm just curious whether a court can force a person to earn a minimum amount. For example, say the payer went on to have another family and became the stay at home parent, could a court really respond to an application to vary maintenance by ordering the payer back to work? Or say a person agrees shared custody and finds it too hard going to keep up with their day job and drops a day a week and seeks a variation. What would happen then? Or in my case, happy to pay whatever until the children are 18, but I want the freedom to say "I'm done with commutes and the City now, I want to do something local 9-5." Could a court really say "not a chance mate, get back on that train and start earning more." 
  • T.T.D
    T.T.D Posts: 227 Forumite
    First Anniversary Photogenic First Post Name Dropper
    edited 1 April 2022 at 9:26AM
    Thanks, I've already been advised that it would be unlikely to last beyond children turning 18 at the absolute latest and probably sooner than that as there is no reason she can't work. 

    However, it got me thinking and I guess I'm just curious whether a court can force a person to earn a minimum amount. For example, say the payer went on to have another family and became the stay at home parent, could a court really respond to an application to vary maintenance by ordering the payer back to work? Or say a person agrees shared custody and finds it too hard going to keep up with their day job and drops a day a week and seeks a variation. What would happen then? Or in my case, happy to pay whatever until the children are 18, but I want the freedom to say "I'm done with commutes and the City now, I want to do something local 9-5." Could a court really say "not a chance mate, get back on that train and start earning more." 
    A court will take into account your earnings as it is currently and that your job is a seemingly secure career that should see you to retirement, it would seek to keep the recipient in the same supported lifestyle as you shared in marriage.

    There two types of spousal maintenance:
    Fixed term and Whole life awards, Fixed term are usually paid up in a lump sum so you both can “cleanly break” and keep your lives separate, there’s no comeback for the recipient to receive more.

     Life awards are usually paid up monthly and have terms and conditions stipulated within the order although orders are basic and easy to follow, you pay XYZ until your ex’s death or re-marriage. I cannot see why your ex spouse would not receive the maintenance past your children's 18th birthday. Child maintenance would cover the child costs until 18 or in case of further education up to 21, but spousal maintenance paid on a monthly life term is usually for life or until the recipients remarriage. 

    After a numbers of years post commencement of the order you could apply to the court to vary the order if your circumstances has changed, or you believe her circumstances has improved, but if you intentionally decrease your earnings or earn less to pursue hobbies like do voluntarily humanitarian work or philanthropy this maybe prevented by a judge as they may look secure the payments from funds you have elsewhere like your pension.

    Not to be confused with Child Maintenance they are separate and entirely different to Spousal Maintenance. 
  • TBagpuss
    TBagpuss Posts: 11,199 Forumite
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    If you apply to vary then the court can review and consider what is reasonable. They can't order you to work but they could ,in theory, decline to reduce the maintenance. It's unlikely that they would do so if they accepted that there was a genuine reason for the change.

    While it's a slightly different scenario, there have been cases where the court was being asked to consider income and earning capacity when making an original financial order, and have been unwilling to treat someone who had changed careers as having the earning capacity of their former job - one was a former city banker who made a career change to become a teacher , the court made the order on their basis of their income and future earning capacity as a teacher, they did not accept the spouses argument that their earning capacity should be based on what they had earned (and in theory could earn if they went back to their old role) in the city.

    TTD is correct that where maintenance is ordered it can be for a fixed term o r on joint lives. However, it's not correct that fixed term would be paid in a lump sum. IT's more common that there is no maintenance but that the capital split is adjusted to take into account the differing needs.

    Nor is it correct that the aim is to keep the other spouse in the level you had as a couple - unless you are very wealthy then it's pretty much inevitable that you will both see changes to your lifestyle as two households can't be run for the price of one. What a court must do is try to determine what is fair and reasonable looking at all the circumstances, and the circumstances include looking at the standard of living you had as a family, so if (for instance) you had a big house, a second home, 3 foreign holidays a year ad a new car each every year, then it's unlikely to be seen as reasonable if the settlement / level of maintenance means that the poorer spouse can only afford a small flat, a car once every 10 years and a weekend in Skegness once a year, while the better paid spouse can afford a detached house, 2 holidays a year etc - they are trying to achieve a degree of fairness and parity BUT with the underlying aim of you each becoming independent.

    If the maintenance if for a fixed term that term can either be extendible or non-extendible - and with any form f spousal maintenance i t's always open to you to try to agree to capitalise it, either at the time it's originally discussed or at a later stage.

    However, as you appear to have been told, in most cases nowadays (except where there are unusual circumstances, such as where the recipient is the carer for a disabled child likely to have life-long care needs, or where they are themselves unable to du to poor health to work, maintenance is normally a temporarily arrangements to give the recipient time to gain qualifications / return to work / be supported until children are old enough that the parent can start work / return to (full time) work or otherwise move to becoming financially independent.
    All posts are my personal opinion, not formal advice Always get proper, professional advice (particularly about anything legal!)
  • T.T.D said:
    Thanks, I've already been advised that it would be unlikely to last beyond children turning 18 at the absolute latest and probably sooner than that as there is no reason she can't work. 

    However, it got me thinking and I guess I'm just curious whether a court can force a person to earn a minimum amount. For example, say the payer went on to have another family and became the stay at home parent, could a court really respond to an application to vary maintenance by ordering the payer back to work? Or say a person agrees shared custody and finds it too hard going to keep up with their day job and drops a day a week and seeks a variation. What would happen then? Or in my case, happy to pay whatever until the children are 18, but I want the freedom to say "I'm done with commutes and the City now, I want to do something local 9-5." Could a court really say "not a chance mate, get back on that train and start earning more." 
    A court will take into account your earnings as it is currently and that your job is a seemingly secure career that should see you to retirement, it would seek to keep the recipient in the same supported lifestyle as you shared in marriage.

    There two types of spousal maintenance:
    Fixed term and Whole life awards, Fixed term are usually paid up in a lump sum so you both can “cleanly break” and keep your lives separate, there’s no comeback for the recipient to receive more.

     Life awards are usually paid up monthly and have terms and conditions stipulated within the order although orders are basic and easy to follow, you pay XYZ until your ex’s death or re-marriage. I cannot see why your ex spouse would not receive the maintenance past your children's 18th birthday. Child maintenance would cover the child costs until 18 or in case of further education up to 21, but spousal maintenance paid on a monthly life term is usually for life or until the recipients remarriage. 

    After a numbers of years post commencement of the order you could apply to the court to vary the order if your circumstances has changed, or you believe her circumstances has improved, but if you intentionally decrease your earnings or earn less to pursue hobbies like do voluntarily humanitarian work or philanthropy this maybe prevented by a judge as they may look secure the payments from funds you have elsewhere like your pension.

    Not to be confused with Child Maintenance they are separate and entirely different to Spousal Maintenance. 
    I don't wish to offend but a lot of what you've said above I already know is wrong after initial conversations with my solicitor and I would ask that you take your post down in order to avoid misleading others. In particular: 

    1) "Same supported lifestyle." No such thing, recipients of maintenance are expected to work and to maximise their earning capacity if they can. The days of recipients being allowed to sit on their bum was well and truly ended by Wright vs Wright in 2015; 

    2) It's not normal to capitalise spousal maintenance and doing so can be a bad idea (e.g. where the recipient takes a massive lump sum and then promptly remarries, which would have terminated the maintenance anyway). 

    3) Joint lives is extremely rare these days. Sample testing of divorces in five English courts identified that it occured in less than 5% of divorces and the majority of these were either very long marriages, marriages after retirement or disabled recipient/child. A further 11% of divorces had some element of maintenance for a fixed term - so more than twice as common - and normally only for a nominal amount. 

    So, going back to the point about earnings. I am troubled by the concept that I have no freedom to decide my own future for the next 29 years (not only would I have to carry on doing a job I can't stand but I'd have to carry on living close enough to London to work there even though after divorce I will have only my children as family within 300 miles of me) but fortunately you contradict TBagpuss who seems to know a bit more about these circumstances. The case about the City Banker becoming a teacher is interesting and gives me comfort that in the future when the children are grown up I could move back to where the rest of my family and friends live, take a pay cut and work in a less stressful job. 
  • TBagpuss said:
    If you apply to vary then the court can review and consider what is reasonable. They can't order you to work but they could ,in theory, decline to reduce the maintenance. It's unlikely that they would do so if they accepted that there was a genuine reason for the change.

    While it's a slightly different scenario, there have been cases where the court was being asked to consider income and earning capacity when making an original financial order, and have been unwilling to treat someone who had changed careers as having the earning capacity of their former job - one was a former city banker who made a career change to become a teacher , the court made the order on their basis of their income and future earning capacity as a teacher, they did not accept the spouses argument that their earning capacity should be based on what they had earned (and in theory could earn if they went back to their old role) in the city.

    TTD is correct that where maintenance is ordered it can be for a fixed term o r on joint lives. However, it's not correct that fixed term would be paid in a lump sum. IT's more common that there is no maintenance but that the capital split is adjusted to take into account the differing needs.

    Nor is it correct that the aim is to keep the other spouse in the level you had as a couple - unless you are very wealthy then it's pretty much inevitable that you will both see changes to your lifestyle as two households can't be run for the price of one. What a court must do is try to determine what is fair and reasonable looking at all the circumstances, and the circumstances include looking at the standard of living you had as a family, so if (for instance) you had a big house, a second home, 3 foreign holidays a year ad a new car each every year, then it's unlikely to be seen as reasonable if the settlement / level of maintenance means that the poorer spouse can only afford a small flat, a car once every 10 years and a weekend in Skegness once a year, while the better paid spouse can afford a detached house, 2 holidays a year etc - they are trying to achieve a degree of fairness and parity BUT with the underlying aim of you each becoming independent.

    If the maintenance if for a fixed term that term can either be extendible or non-extendible - and with any form f spousal maintenance i t's always open to you to try to agree to capitalise it, either at the time it's originally discussed or at a later stage.

    However, as you appear to have been told, in most cases nowadays (except where there are unusual circumstances, such as where the recipient is the carer for a disabled child likely to have life-long care needs, or where they are themselves unable to du to poor health to work, maintenance is normally a temporarily arrangements to give the recipient time to gain qualifications / return to work / be supported until children are old enough that the parent can start work / return to (full time) work or otherwise move to becoming financially independent.
    Thanks, this was really helpful. It sounds like as long as I'm reasonable my decisions ought to be respected by the court. So taking a pay drop from £80k to £60k after the children have all finished education in order to move to where my family (brother, sisters, parents if still alive by then) are and to stop working 60 hour weeks with long commutes to a 35 hour job I can walk to will hopefully be seen as reasonable! I guess I could get promotions and payrises before I do that which would make the paycut more substantial, but I don't like my job enough to consider that likely! 

    Also, I know I'm talking about a hypothetical that will almost certainly never happen. My wife is unlikely to even get SM, let alone maintenance 13 years from now. She's only 37, kids are all in school and she'll be expected to work. Or so said my solicitor anyway. 
  • RAS
    RAS Posts: 32,645 Forumite
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    edited 4 April 2022 at 11:08AM
    Taking this from the child's perspective, I lived in a household where my parents split up shortly before my youngest sibling reached school age. Fortunately my mother was qualified and could go back to work. This was in the old days when there was no support unless you were unemployed, so money was very tight, and maintenance was very low etc.

    However the things that had the most lasting effects were not financial. As the eldest I had to get the younger ones home and look after them until mum got in. These days that simply would not be allowed. The youngest hated not having his parents around and kicked off a lot. If one of us got sick, we were home alone with a neighbour popping in.

    There was no-one who could take us to after school activities; either all trudged there or we didn't go. And if we all trudged there, there was no-one cooking supper at home. 

    Your ex-wife should work but your children are going to need additional childcare, and will still miss out on activities. If she works part-time it is likely to be lower paid; if she works full-time then the amount of child care will be very high. I doubt they are already teens? And I'd not recommend that she work full-time until the youngest is in secondary school because wrap-round care is not the same as going home. Weekend activities will also need thinking about, particularly if the children are also going to see you as well some weekends? 

    Maybe your wife had a large and supportive family, otherwise I suspect that the bulk of the maintenance you pay will be swallowed up in childcare costs, at least in the early years, unless your wife works flexible part-time.

    It is not possible for two households to live as well as one, even if there is some salary increase by the second parent working part-time the children's life style will be hugely affected. If your wife earns enough to support herself and you pay a reduced amount to support the children, they will still have to make changes in their expectations. If you see the maintenance as money you pay your wife, you may come to resent it. 

    My father paid what he was supposed to under duress and then congratulated himself on paying until we left school, although that only covered the arrears. He'd also rock up every so often and spend more in a weekend that the family lived off in a month. He paid for expensive activities which we could not attend because of the travel costs. Let alone the required supervision. And expensive gifts we did not want.

    I appreciate that if you are working long commuter weeks, you're probably limited in the extent that you can be involved in your children's lives already. But going forward, can you be the one who ensures that one or two children get to a weekend activity, most weeks? And arrange a swap with another parents if you are not going to be there? Can you be the one who picks up teenager from the mate's house and drops them home? Or once in a while, works from home to take them to a hospital appointment?

    Rather than arranging an expensive holiday when you've "got them for a week", could you book a cottage and suggest mum comes down for one weekend, so they also can have some away time with mum? I know cottages aren't cheap either. 

    It also sound like it is going to be more difficult for your children to maintain a good relationship with your family given distance?

    It's more likely your children will be able to attend major family events on both sides of the family if you can remain friendly with your ex, and work as a team even if a somewhat estranged one.

    One of my friends commented recently that no-one tells you have b.... hard it is and it doesn't get easier as they get older, because you're facing new challenges. It's normal for parents to disagree and even argue over the matter, but those who live together get a chance to make up. Mediation before you look at the settlement and maybe at intervals might give you both the better chance, and the kids.
    The person who has not made a mistake, has made nothing
  • tooldle
    tooldle Posts: 1,521 Forumite
    First Post Name Dropper First Anniversary
    edited 4 April 2022 at 1:36PM
    The other-side of the above being that in many circumstances, wrap around care can be better than being at home. When my daughter was in primary school the after school provision gave quite a lot of choice. Kids could sit quietly or watch age appropriate tv/films, play with the wide variety of toys (pool table etc), participate in sports (netball, cricket etc), participate in arts based activities (choir or dance) or participate in additional learning (languages). As a kid of a two parent family who was 'dragged' to activities specific to my siblings needs, I would have given my right arm to be able to participate in activities that challenged me. I'm sure all parents mean well but its not a given that parents abilities will match those of their offspring. Some kids need specialist support and others need to be stretched/challenged. As a professional female myself I always encourage and support women to reach their own potential. If I were the OP i would suggest working with the ex-wife to be to see what she really wants in terms of a career and looking to sort the childcare arrangements / maintenance to suit that objective, rather than assuming part time work to be the way forwards. This leads to a natural conversation on a time limited arrangement for maintenance. 
    There was a thread on here some years back from a man whose wife was seeking maintenance, ad they had two older teenagers. I can't remember his name otherwise i would point you to his thread. The result in his case was a time limited maintenance award (3 yrs I think) which gave his wife some time to retrain. The ex-wife did take on part time employment fairly quickly.
    I've just found the thread Separated, how much should I provide? — MoneySavingExpert Forum
  • RAS said:
    Taking this from the child's perspective, I lived in a household where my parents split up shortly before my youngest sibling reached school age. Fortunately my mother was qualified and could go back to work. This was in the old days when there was no support unless you were unemployed, so money was very tight, and maintenance was very low etc.

    However the things that had the most lasting effects were not financial. As the eldest I had to get the younger ones home and look after them until mum got in. These days that simply would not be allowed. The youngest hated not having his parents around and kicked off a lot. If one of us got sick, we were home alone with a neighbour popping in.

    There was no-one who could take us to after school activities; either all trudged there or we didn't go. And if we all trudged there, there was no-one cooking supper at home. 

    Your ex-wife should work but your children are going to need additional childcare, and will still miss out on activities. If she works part-time it is likely to be lower paid; if she works full-time then the amount of child care will be very high. I doubt they are already teens? And I'd not recommend that she work full-time until the youngest is in secondary school because wrap-round care is not the same as going home. Weekend activities will also need thinking about, particularly if the children are also going to see you as well some weekends? 

    Maybe your wife had a large and supportive family, otherwise I suspect that the bulk of the maintenance you pay will be swallowed up in childcare costs, at least in the early years, unless your wife works flexible part-time.

    It is not possible for two households to live as well as one, even if there is some salary increase by the second parent working part-time the children's life style will be hugely affected. If your wife earns enough to support herself and you pay a reduced amount to support the children, they will still have to make changes in their expectations. If you see the maintenance as money you pay your wife, you may come to resent it. 

    My father paid what he was supposed to under duress and then congratulated himself on paying until we left school, although that only covered the arrears. He'd also rock up every so often and spend more in a weekend that the family lived off in a month. He paid for expensive activities which we could not attend because of the travel costs. Let alone the required supervision. And expensive gifts we did not want.

    I appreciate that if you are working long commuter weeks, you're probably limited in the extent that you can be involved in your children's lives already. But going forward, can you be the one who ensures that one or two children get to a weekend activity, most weeks? And arrange a swap with another parents if you are not going to be there? Can you be the one who picks up teenager from the mate's house and drops them home? Or once in a while, works from home to take them to a hospital appointment?

    Rather than arranging an expensive holiday when you've "got them for a week", could you book a cottage and suggest mum comes down for one weekend, so they also can have some away time with mum? I know cottages aren't cheap either. 

    It also sound like it is going to be more difficult for your children to maintain a good relationship with your family given distance?

    It's more likely your children will be able to attend major family events on both sides of the family if you can remain friendly with your ex, and work as a team even if a somewhat estranged one.

    One of my friends commented recently that no-one tells you have b.... hard it is and it doesn't get easier as they get older, because you're facing new challenges. It's normal for parents to disagree and even argue over the matter, but those who live together get a chance to make up. Mediation before you look at the settlement and maybe at intervals might give you both the better chance, and the kids.
    My question related to after the children turned 18 but thanks anyway. Incidentally, we're going to have shared care nearly 50/50 (as it should be, as both parents must have the opportunity to work). I'll be figuring out childcare just as much as her but the reality is before we met I had good GCSEs, very good A-Levels, a First Class honours degree and a professional qualification and she had none of these things. She's made some headway and has a degree now having been supported by me but our earnings were always going to be vastly different, children or not. 

    I think what matters to me is that she likes the lifestyle which comes with the money. I'm a lot less bothered about it. She easily spends 90% of the disposable income. So when the children have grown up, I don't really want to carry on with the 5am rises, cold sweat stressing and answering emails from sunrise to midnight once the children are grown up, especially not if she is doing some easy little job 5 hours a day in a relaxed little office full of friendly people and not bothering to maximise her own earning capacity. If she wants the lifestyle, she ought to be the one earning it. 


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