The Times has recently started a campaign to "modernise" family law. Spousal maintenance is a key issue being raised, and The Times is seeking an end to so-called 'meal ticket for life' maintenance Orders.

The Orders being criticised provide maintenance for a former spouse on a joint lives basis. The maintenance is usually to end when the first of the below triggering events occurs:-

  1. The death of either party
  2. The re-marriage of the receiving party
  3. A further order of the Court, varying or discharging the maintenance.

These were in favour 10-15+ years ago, and were often made in favour of a wife after a long marriage. The intention was that the receiving or paying party could then apply to Court to vary the amount, or duration, at any point in the future if there was a change in circumstances. Variation applications often focus on cohabitation, an improvement in the receiving party's financial circumstances, or a deterioration in the paying party's financial circumstances.

In reality, a variation application is expensive, with contested proceedings potentially costing each party £25,000 plus VAT and barristers fees if it is litigated to a fully contested Final Hearing. Therefore the cost to vary an Order can be huge, especially for a paying party who will still need to pay the maintenance whilst the application is being considered. The receiving party is unlikely to agree to a decrease or termination of their maintenance, so these are often very difficult proceedings.

It is a big risk to seek to vary a joint lives maintenance Order, as the outcome can not be guaranteed. Whilst maintenance may be reduced, it could be increased. The duration may be limited, or remain on a joint lives basis.

Now the Court is reluctant to make a joint lives maintenance order. Therefore, to an extent, it could be argued that such reform has already happened. This comes down to the issue of need in each individual case, and one High Court Judge recently referred to needs as being an ‘elastic concept’.

If you would like to discuss an existing joint lives maintenance order, if one is either being proposed or needs to be reviewed, please do not hesitate to contact Oratto. We'll ensure you get connected to the right family law solicitor, who can discuss your options about spousal maintenance with you.