Divorce - the end of lifetime maintenance awards for wives? Image

Divorce - the end of lifetime maintenance awards for wives?

Posted: 06/03/2015

This week the press has been alive with reports that a judge has decreed that the wives of wealthy husbands must go out to work after divorce. We have received numerous enquiries from concerned wives or optimistic husbands following the reports of Mr and Mrs Wright’s circumstances. 

Mr and Mrs Wright married in 1997. They separated in 2006 after a nine year marriage. Between 2006 and 2008, Mr Wright, a horse surgeon, and Mrs Wright, a full-time mother, were involved in court proceedings which ultimately resulted in a financial order being made in 2008. 

At that time, Mr and Mrs Wright had two very young children, who are now ten and sixteen. Mrs Wright was a full-time mother when the marriage broke down, albeit she helped with the family’s stud farm. The 2008 order allowed for Mrs Wright to receive £54,000 per year as global maintenance to support herself and the two children. This equated to her receiving 22% of Mr Wright’s net income. As is often the case, the financial order was made on the basis that maintenance would increase (or decrease) each year in line with the Retail Price Index. Due to a combination of Retail Price Index increases and a reduction in Mr Wright’s net income, it had increased to 34% of his net income, or 59% if the fact that he was paying boarding school fees for the children was taken into account. It is relatively rare that a judge awards maintenance at such a high percentage rate given that a husband needs his own financial incentive to go out to work. 

In this case, the judge was particularly critical of Mrs Wright’s approach to the support she was receiving. She had worked on the basis that she would be 'supported for life  . . . even though she knew that her former husband was unlikely to have the financial resources to support them both'. At the time of the 2008 judgment, the judge made it very clear that within a couple of years Mrs Wright should expect to make a financial contribution, but this time the judge was dismayed to see she had made no attempt to find a job. Mrs Wright said that her childcare responsibilities had prevented her from doing so but this was not accepted by the judge, particularly given that the elder child is at boarding school. 

The judge was keen to point out that there are 'innumerable possibilities' available to women with childcare responsibilities, from part-time to school-term working to homeworking. 

Lucy Cummin, a specialist family lawyer at Penningtons Manches, commented: “It has been remarkable to see how this case has attracted the public’s attention. It has been hailed as the end of wives receiving ‘meal tickets’ for life. However, it is a case which is not seen as quite so significant for family lawyers. For some time, most judges have expected women with older children to make some form of financial contribution to meeting their own needs. It is certainly less common for spousal maintenance to be awarded without a termination date. Judges are alive to the options open to women. In general, they do not have unrealistic expectations of women who have not worked outside the home for a number of years but they do expect them to recognise that they have an earning capacity, however modest it may be.”

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