After a divorce/separation, the party with the highest income can make maintenance payments (‘periodical payments’) to the lower/non-earning partner. These payments can continue for life; not like other financial settlements, so it’s an ongoing liability. There are three main factors you may wish to think about when considering maintenance:
1) Should you be paying/receiving maintenance?
2) How long should it go on for?
3) How much should the maintenance be?
Should you be paying/receiving maintenance?
This is completely dependent on the circumstances; if both parties are in employment, you have no children and the marriage was a fairly short marriage, maintenance is probably not suitable. A consent order, or a ‘clean break’ as they are also known, would be the best way to financially separate yourselves as you can do so without an order for maintenance. A consent order is also a good idea should you wish to transfer ownership of a joint property, or if you will not be able to commit to paying a monthly maintenance payment.
Should one party have a high income and the other a low one and is caring for young children, maintenance may be appropriate in order for them to sustain a fair standard of living. This can also be declared and recorded within a consent order should you wish to ensure that no party can claim on the other outside of the terms of the order.
How long should it go on for?
Again, this is dependent on the circumstances. You may agree that the maintenance payments should stop when the children have grown up, or when the party in receipt of the maintenance is able to go back in to the job market after training etc.
If the mother of your children has not worked since they were born, it would be appropriate to pay maintenance for a period of time until she is able to start work again. Should you have a higher standard of living, you should also consider a compensation payment should there be a big difference between her previous lifestyle and her projected future standard of living.
If you have a large private pension fund that you want to share with your spouse, this could also be relevant in helping you decide how long you want the maintenance to go on for.
Maintenance orders (when the maintenance payment has become a legal obligation through a consent order) will stop if the person receiving the maintenance remarries cohabits with someone for a period of at least 6 months, or they die.
How much should the maintenance be?
Depending on your income, both parties will generally have to change their lifestyle to better suit their new circumstances, regardless of whether you receive maintenance or you pay it. Purchasing a new home/furnishing a new home and being responsible for yourself and your own bills etc. is a strain on the finances, and therefore the standard of living for the both of you will probably have to change in order to adapt to your new life comfortably. Therefore, if you receive any state benefit, you should think about how maintenance payments will affect them; for example, your amount of benefit could decrease or stop altogether should the payments you receive from your spouse provide you with a sufficient income.
The best thing to do would be to sit down and work out your respective income versus your outgoings and compare to determine how much maintenance would be appropriate, if at all.