Sarah Finnis, Head of Family Law and an accredited specialist in financial settlements on divorce or separation, examines the courts’ changing attitude to spousal maintenance payments for life.
Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, has announced his intention to divorce his wife after twenty five years of marriage. It seems that the couple are to resolve their financial settlement amicably, but if they were to divorce here in the UK would an English divorce court award Jeff’s wife MacKenzie spousal maintenance for the rest of her life? The Court of Appeal has recently taken a very strict stance on spousal maintenance payments and the clear message is that those seeking long term spousal maintenance payments, known as ‘joint lives orders’ (paid until the death of either party or until the receiving party remarries) are going to struggle.
In the past we have seen some wives wanting to secure what is classed by some as ‘a meal ticket for life’ following a divorce. The courts are now focused on enabling a divorced spouse to become more financially independent, ensuring they retain a financial incentive to return to work.
For example the Court of Appeal in the case of Waggott v Waggott  EWCA Civ 727, where the wife had not worked since 2001, decided that it was reasonable for her maintenance to be paid for a period of five years. This was a significant decision that family solicitors have since heeded.
With family roles changing, courts appear to be more likely to consider spousal maintenance for a fixed term rather than for life, with the role of the court to support the receiving party to return to financial independence. In some cases spousal maintenance for life may still be appropriate, but these are now more likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
For advice on spousal maintenance, financial settlement on divorce or separation including pensions contact a member of our Family Law team.
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