Is there a time limit on maintenance payments for an ex spouse?

Annie Shaw

Must people pay maintenance to a former spouse for ever – even once their children have grown up?



Question

Is there a time limit on maintenance payments? My husband divorced his first wife in 1979 and we married in 1981. We have, however, been together since 1972, when he separated from her.

For all those years he paid maintenance to her and his two daughters, until their education finished in the mid-Eighties.

At that time, his ex-wife asked for more money for herself, and the maintenance was put up to £14 a week by court order – which he is still paying 28 years later.

My husband’s former wife and his daughters remained in the matrimonial home until the girls had finished their education, when the house was sold and the proceeds divided.

We feel as if we have more than done our duty to her, but daren’t apply to the court to try to get this payment stopped in case it is increased.

My husband and his ex-wife are now both 78 years old. Surely enough is enough?

Read our guide to protecting your assets when you divorce.

Answer

Your husband’s divorce took place many years ago, and there have been changes to the divorce laws since then.

Under the current rules there are, in short, two ways of dividing assets and income in the wake of a marriage split.

The first is to opt for a ‘clean break’, where everything is divided up at the time of the divorce and neither party can come back for more. 

The other is for a court to impose a maintenance order, whereby one party makes periodical payments to support the other. 

A maintenance order is always used where children are involved. If you come to a voluntary maintenance arrangement, it is a good idea to have it ratified by a court.

Unless a specific term has been set for spousal support to end – such as when the children reach a certain age and the former wife can go back to work – the level of maintenance established at the outset will continue as long as financial circumstances remain unaltered or until the former spouse remarries or dies. 

How much does it cost to get divorced?

Applying to have maintenance support reassessed

Either side can, however, apply for a change to the order, including a clean break. 

If you fear that, by applying to court, your husband’s maintenance payments could be increased, this suggests that his ex-wife is not well off and that, comparatively, you and your husband are – otherwise no such increase would be made. If the ex-wife has only her state pension and £14 a week to live on, then that is really not a lot of money. 

If you, however, are struggling to make payments and your husband’s ex-wife has ample to live off from other sources, then certainly return to the court to have the level reassessed. A solicitor will be able to advise you better.

Find out about dividing your pensions when you get divorced.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.