Maintenance – not a meal ticket

Family separation children

The press have widely reported the case of Wright, where a divorced wife was told by the court to get a job and not to expect her former husband, a top race horse surgeon, to support her for life.

Mr and Mrs Wright married in 1997 and they subsequently had two children. They separated in 2006 and divorced in 2008. Within the divorce proceedings the court ordered the sale of the £1.3m matrimonial home and Mrs Wright was awarded £450,000 for a mortgage free property. As well as provision for child maintenance and the payment of school fees, Mrs Wright was awarded £32,200 per annum maintenance for herself.

Last year Mr Wright, aged 59, applied to the court to reduce the maintenance he paid to Mrs Wright because he was concerned it would be unaffordable in his retirement. The judge said there was no good reason why Mrs Wright had not worked in the six years since the divorce or retrained and prepared herself for work. The judge stated that Mrs Wright, aged 51, should get a job like “vast numbers of other women with children.” The court ordered that maintenance be reduced over a five year period leading up to Mr Wright’s retirement, whereupon the payments should cease.

Mrs Wright recently attempted to appeal the court’s decision. The court agreed that Mrs Wright should work and support herself and therefore rejected her challenge.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 obliges the court to consider whether it is possible to achieve a clean break order between the parties, providing a once and for all settlement at the earliest opportunity. In reality therefore, especially in more modest cases, spouses do have to take steps to work and maximise their earning capacity to support themselves in the long run, where possible.

This case, and previous cases, however, may signify a further shift away from life time maintenance orders in bigger money cases. As with all divorce cases, the outcome will depend upon the assets involved and all of the circumstances of the case.

For more information, help or advice, please contact our Family team.

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