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International spousal maintenance barometer reveals that the English family courts are still among the most generous

Posted: 12/04/2016

Although there is a greater judicial appetite for ex-spouses to provide for themselves financially, maintenance awards made by the family courts in England and Wales are still close to the dependency end of the first ever international spousal maintenance barometer. 

In ‘From Dependency to Self-Sufficiency: The International Spousal Maintenance Barometer’, the international family law team at Penningtons Manches LLP looked at the current legislation and case law across 16 jurisdictions to provide a global barometer of the spectrum of spousal maintenance from lifelong income in line with the lifestyle during the marriage to no form of post-divorce spousal support. 

The top five countries in which ex-spouses are expected to stand on their own financial feet are Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Finland, Japan and Russia. At the other end of the scale, the top five countries where ex-spouses can typically expect ongoing maintenance are India, USA (California), Singapore, Ireland, and England and Wales. Scotland is eighth. 

There are a wide range of international approaches to the calculation and duration of income provision after divorce or dissolution. Although some jurisdictions view maintenance as restorative only, others seek to achieve parity of income with the wealthier spouse in the name of fairness. Some countries have strict rules which limit both the amount and period over which such payments can be made. At the self-sufficiency end of the barometer, there is little or no ongoing maintenance for ex-spouses. 

In England and Wales, the courts have historically had very wide discretion to make generous awards to the weaker financial party – often known as a ‘meal ticket for life’ – but there is now an increasing expectation that ex-spouses should achieve financial independence as quickly as possible. From 2014 onwards, reported cases have increasingly considered the possibility of a transition to independence even if it involves some hardship for the recipient. 

Penningtons Manches international family partner and report co-author, James Stewart, said: “Gone are the days in England and Wales when the weaker financial party could expect lifelong financial support without examination of their earning potential and the lifestyle adjustments they could make to become self-sufficient. 

“Any international couple contemplating divorce would be well advised to look into the legislation governing spousal maintenance in their respective home countries to determine which jurisdiction would be most likely to meet their expectations for support following the breakdown of their relationship.” 

The Penningtons Manches International Family Law Report ‘From Dependency to Self-Sufficiency: The International Spousal Maintenance Barometer’ can be read here.

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