Spousal Maintenance

If you are in a marriage or a civil partnership and have separated, then you may need some monthly payment from your ex on a regular basis until everything is sorted out. This is called spousal maintenance or, to use the legal term, ‘aliment’. 

Frequently asked questions

The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to spousal maintenance.

What is spousal maintenance?

This is support that you might be entitled to until your marriage or partnership is dissolved, which may take some time. This is calleed aliment. The obligation to support stems from your legal relationship of being married or in a civil partnership, so when that relationship ends in divorce or dissolution, then this support stops too.

At the point of divorce or dissolution, depending on what you have received by way of a financial settlement, you might in certain situations be entitled to continuing monthly financial support, although the legal term for that is then ‘periodical allowance’ rather than ‘aliment’.

It is normal for parties to try and agree between them who is to pay what after separation, such as the mortgage, rent, Council Tax and utility bills. It can be that existing arrangements might continue for a while, such as both salaries going into a joint account with all Direct Debits coming off that account. 

If, however, you are not able to reach an agreement or one party refuses to pay anything then you can apply to the court for an award of interim aliment or spousal maintenance.   

If you have children then your ex-partner may have to pay support for them separately. This is a separate issue from spousal maintenance and is covered in our Child Maintenance section.  

When does a court order spousal maintenance?

As long as you are married or in a civil partnership, it is possible for one party to raise an action in court for interim aliment. 

The amount awarded will depend on the reasonable needs of both:

  • The party seeking the aliment, taking into account their own income from all sources including benefits, and
  • The party who is being asked to pay the aliment and what their reasonable costs and liabilities are, including any sums they may have to pay for children

It very much depends on what the judge thinks is reasonable taking all the circumstances into account. The court can also take into account the earning capacity of both parties, in other words if one party is not working but is capable of doing so and there are jobs available.

This is a very different means of deciding the level of maintenance from that used for child maintenance as there is no ‘formula’ base. The reason for that is child maintenance is based on a law passed by parliament, but spousal maintenance is based on the common law where the court has discretion to make what award they think is appropriate.

How long does the spousal maintenance last?

Spousal maintenance, or interim aliment, will last as long as you are still married or in a civil partnership. It stops when you are divorced or the partnership is dissolved.  However, the amount of aliment can be varied before that date if there is a material change of circumstance of either party, for example if your ex loses their job, they may apply to have any award reduced.  

The divorce or dissolution will normally mean that all the assets that you have will have been divided fairly between you. If, however, these are inadequate for you or if there is very little in the way of assets to divide then you can ask for an order at the time of the divorce or dissolution for continuing spousal maintenance, called periodical allowance.

The courts will usually make these periodical allowance awards for a specific period, which might be a maximum of three years although it can be longer. The courts can make these awards in certain circumstances, for example if:

  • There are few assets to divide and/or
  • You have never worked throughout the course of the marriage and would now find it difficult to gain employment of any sort and your ex is still in good employment

Each case very much depends on its own circumstances.

What if my ex does not pay maintenance as ordered?

If your ex refuses to pay then you can ask the Sheriff Officers to take enforcement action. Full powers are available for any non-payment of debt, such as an attachment of arresting order, and inhibition preventing a sale of a house or attaching assets.

Non-compliance of payment of aliment can also mean that you can apply to the court for civil imprisonment. This is unusual but technically is available.   

How can Thorntons help?

If spousal maintenance is an issue in your separation you should speak to a Family Lawyer, particularly if the arrangements are under dispute and there is the possibility of court action.  We can advise you on all aspects of spousal maintenance, including your entitlement or obligation and help with negotiations, including alternative dispute resolution.

At Thorntons Family Law, we offer an initial free no-obligation chat over the phone to outline your options and the possible costs.

Depending on your case and circumstances, the next step is to come into one of our local offices to meet a Family Law Solicitor about your case and the way forward. 

Call us on 03330 430 150 for a chat or contact us to book an appointment.

How much will it cost?

We are always clear to clients about the potential costs of any option and offer a range of payment options.  In some cases we can offer clients a fixed price package.  If we cannot offer a fixed price service, we charge based on the time we spend on your case, including meetings, emails, phone calls and court representations.  Depending on your case and circumstances, you may also need to cover outlays, such as court costs or payments to independent experts. We will set out our fees and likely extra costs for you at the start and keep you informed of any possible changes as your case progresses.

Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.

Frequently asked questions

We receive many questions about maintenance payments. We have answered some commonly asked questions below

Read frequently asked questions

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Ronnie Murphy

+44 1334 477107

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