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Spousal Maintenance And The Cost-Of-Living Crisis

With inflation at a 40 year high, the cost-of-living crisis is impacting families everywhere.

As experienced family lawyers, we know that the squeeze on finances is having a particularly profound impact on those who have been through a divorce or separation.

If you are divorced and are receiving payments from your ex-spouse, you may well be finding that it’s a challenge to manage your income versus expenditure.

Equally, if you’re paying an ex-spouse maintenance, you may have found that as inflation outstrips wage increases, the maintenance payments you are making to your ex-spouse have become unaffordable.

In this article, we only refer to spousal or global maintenance payments. These are (usually monthly) payments from the higher earning spouse to the lower income spouse. If you have children, child maintenance may also be payable from one parent to the other, depending on how much time the children spend with each of you.

Does the rise in inflation mean that maintenance payments automatically rise?

Some financial remedy orders include an automatic annual variation in the level of maintenance payments. This is usually linked to either the retail payments index, or the consumer payments index. The calculation of the increase can be confusing and there is the potential for disagreement with your ex-partner. If in doubt, get in touch with an experienced family lawyer who will be able to assist you in working out the correct level of payments.

The maintenance payments I’m receiving aren’t sufficient because of the increase in the cost of living. What can I do?

The first step is to try to agree to an increase in the maintenance payments with your ex. You could try attending mediation to try to reach an agreement - we have qualified in-house mediators who act as a neutral third party in helping you to reach an agreement.

If you’re not able to reach an agreement, you may be able to apply to the Court to increase your maintenance payments.

A word of caution here. Applications to vary maintenance can be complicated, and you will need to show that there has been a change of circumstances since the original order was made, which means that the maintenance order is no longer sufficient to meet your reasonable needs. The Court may be reluctant to find that the cost of living crisis in itself constitutes a change in circumstances, given that your ex-spouse may be finding that their income is squeezed.

The best thing you can do if you do find yourself in this position is to seek advice from a specialist family lawyer. We can explore the options open to you, try to help you to reach an amicable agreement with your spouse, and give you bespoke advice on your prospects of success in any application to increase your maintenance payments.

The maintenance payments I’m making to my ex-spouse are unaffordable because of the increase in the cost of living. What can I do?

Many people who are making index linked maintenance payments to an ex-spouse are concerned that the payments are becoming unaffordable.

If you can reach an agreement with your former spouse, you should. Don’t simply cease paying maintenance, which will make an amicable agreement less likely, and may leave you in breach of a Court order.

If you’re not able to agree to a reduction in maintenance payments to your ex-spouse, you may be able to apply to the Court to decrease the maintenance payments, on the basis that they are no longer affordable to you. We will be able to give you bespoke advice on your prospects of success in such an application depending upon your specific circumstances.

As expert family lawyers, we are aware of how concerning it can be when, after a divorce, your income simply isn’t sufficient to meet your obligations. We are experienced in helping you to reach an amicable resolution with your ex-partner, or, where necessary, applying for increases, reductions, or enforcement of spousal maintenance orders.

Please visit our website to learn more about financial concerns after divorce. If you'd like to learn more about how our family team can help you, please visit our website. You can also call us on 0370 1500 100.