Ups and Downs: Variation of Maintenance Orders

When an ancillary relief order is made it may contain provision for one party to pay the other spousal maintenance. If you would like any more information on variation of maintenance please contact Paven Basuita Osbornes family department.
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Oct. 25, 2009 - PRLog -- When an ancillary relief order is made it may contain provision for one party to pay the other spousal maintenance (or “periodical payments”). This is usually for a defined amount per month or it may be expressed as a percentage of the payer’s income. The level of maintenance will be based, amongst other things, on the parties’ needs as assessed at the time the order was made and their financial resources. But what if the circumstances of the parties change after the order is made? For example, what if the payer loses his or her job? Or the payee finds that they are struggling to make ends meet?

In these situations it may be possible to seek an order from the court to vary a maintenance award. The amount can be varied (upward or downward), the term may be changed, arrears discharged, the order may be temporarily suspended or the court may exercise its power to capitalise the remaining maintenance payments. The application to vary can be made by either the payer or the payee.

Applying for Variation

In order to make an application to vary maintenance, there are various elements which need to be satisfied:

There must be an existing maintenance order in place, even if it is only a “nominal” maintenance order.

The payee must not have remarried because on remarriage maintenance payments end.
The applicant must satisfy the test laid down in statute which is that the court will take into account “all the circumstances of the case…(and this) shall include any change in any of the matters to which the court was required to have regard when making the order.”
Applying the Test

As is often the case in family law, the court has wide discretion to decide when or if to allow a variation of maintenance. The first consideration will be of the welfare of any child under 18. Other relevant factors will be the relative financial resources of each party, their ages and their needs. The court will also want to know what has happened in the intervening years since the ancillary relief order was made, how things have changed and why they have changed.

The court also has a duty to consider, on an application for variation, whether or not there should now be a clean break. This could be achieved by capitalising future maintenance by the payer paying a lump sum in lieu of future maintenance payments.

Case law

Very broadly, case law has seen a general trend towards allowing variation of maintenance and allowing payees to increase the length of maintenance orders where they were made for a specific term only. The focus has shifted from the payee having to argue for any continuation of maintenance to the payer having to argue against the continuation of it.

The court may also take into account the extent to which the person reliant on the maintenance has tried to become financially independent, although this will depend on factors such as their age, resources and whether they were in a position to become independent. In the case of North v North [2007] EWCA Civ 760 the court limited a wife’s claim to increase her maintenance because she had not tried to obtain gainful employment and had frittered away her money on a serious of unwise business decisions and a lavish lifestyle since the divorce. Nevertheless, the court still awarded her an increase of maintenance because it said that she could not be blamed for the businesses she invested in going bust.

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About Osbornes

A firm of solicitors, established in Camden Town since 1973. Specialises in Family law (including international adoption and child abduction work), Personal Injury litigation, Residential and Commercial Property, Housing, Property and Probate litigation, Licencing, Wills, Trusts and Estates.

Osbornes comprises more than 50 lawyers and staff with a reputation for excellence and a strong commitment to our clients. This is why we keep expanding and our clients keep coming back.

After 33 years on Parkway in Camden Town we moved to new and larger offices at Livery House, in Pratt Street, Camden Town in January 2006.

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