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Spousal Maintenance: No Longer a Meal Ticket for Life

The ex-wife of a millionaire racehorse surgeon has been told by the Court of Appeal that she should work for a living rather than assuming she has the right to be supported for the rest of her life.

Lord Justice Pitchford upheld a first instance decision of Judge Lynn Roberts that future spousal maintenance paid by the husband to the wife, who did not work during the marriage, should be cut when the husband retires. The original order included a global maintenance figure of £75,000 p.a., of which the wife received £33,200, to continue for joint lives. Judge Roberts ordered that the level of spousal maintenance should gradually reduce and then cease by the time the husband retires in five years time. She criticised the wife for not having made any attempt to undergo training or find work since the order, and pointed out that it would be possible to fit work around childcare responsibilities as “vast numbers of women with children just get on with it”.

The decision has been widely reported in the press as signalling the end of ex partners of wealthy spouses receiving a meal ticket for life. The outcome suggests that non-working parties will be expected to retrain or find work, even if they are the primary carer for children of school age. The main legislation dealing with finance and divorce makes it clear that courts should look to bring married couples’ financial claims against each other to an end at the earliest opportunity, and this decision indicates that the courts are willing to put this into practice.