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Can I end my joint lives spousal maintenance payments?

The quick answer

There are two ways you can end spousal maintenance. One is by agreement between the parties the second is by an application to the Court. The outcome to Court may not succeed. The outcome will depend on your capital and income as well of the needs of your former spouse.

In more detail

Lifetime spousal maintenance

This is where maintenance is paid until one of the parties dies. In some cases, the re-marriage of the spouse who is receiving maintenance will trigger an end to the receipt of maintenance. These lifetime maintenance orders (some call ‘a meal ticket for life’) are becoming rarer but still exist for divorce settlements in England and Wales.

A change in the law is needed

The last major reform of the law was in 1973 of the Matrimonial Causes Act. Since then, our society has progressed quite dramatically with equal rights legislation and modernising social attitudes towards marriage and cohabiting. We are an educated generation where everyone should be treated fairly and equally.

Baroness Deech has proposed a private member’s bill called “Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill” which has very slowly been making its way through parliament. However I am told most private members bills never make it to law.

Why the law needs to be changed?

I find it hard to believe that anyone can have a lifetime maintenance order made against them with no forward set date for a review to encourage the recipient spouse to start a career of retrain to financially support themselves.

It is often the case that the ex-wife is the recipient of maintenance and once the children have finished education there is no reason not to work or resume a career. No one starts off going back into employment at the top level of salary but do usually progress over time. The sooner that starts the better.

The law as it stands encourages the recipient spouse not to work and if they have a new partner not to re-marry and in some cases disguise that they are in fact now cohabiting and have shared household costs.

The risks and costs of going to Court

The law is not defined and leaves the spousal maintenance outcome of cases to judges and there is therefore uncertainty for both sides when a marriage ends. I believe that the outcome should be more defined in law. Everyone should know what they are getting into when they get married.

A set of defined maintenance rules would also help save substantial legal fees for both parties as each divorce is fought out on a case-by-case basis. They are paying these costs out of their joint funds. This is not a tax-deductible expense for a business. This is lifetime savings being depleted.

There is unfortunately a pattern of you being more likely to see lifetime maintenance orders the further away you get from London. Courts in London tend to avoid lifetime maintenance orders and the judges there are seen as more progressive.

Once you are tied into a lifetime maintenance order you may have to pay a capital sum value based on the Duxbury tables to buy your way out of it. A Court will make a decision based on income and capital needs and will normally use the Duxbury tables as a guide. I have however seen a number of parties apply to end lifetime maintenance orders due to a drop in income and the Court has awarded an amount substantially less than the table values.

Note that when using the Duxbury table to settle a joint lives order (until the first party dies) then the older persons age should be used (as they are more likely to die first). If they are exactly the same age then the man is statistically more likely to die first.

Alternative countries

In Scotland spousal maintenance only lasts for three years unless there are exceptional circumstances. The situation is similar in mainland Europe.

 A change in the law        

Cleary the law in England and Wales needs to be urgently reviewed after 50 years of no change. Being on either side of a never-ending spousal maintenance order is like a prison sentence.

 If you agree please sign the petition

If you would like to sign a petition for change, please visit the website or follow this link.


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