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Death of 'Meal Ticket' As More Courts Block Indefinite Maintenance
Divorced women across England and Wales are being obliged to return to work because courts are unwilling to award indefinite maintenance.
One of the country’s leading law firms has reported a substantial increase in the number of ex-wives who, in the last year, had only been awarded financial support from their former partners for a limited period of time.
Holly Tootill, a Family lawyer with JMW Solicitors, said that the change had brought about a role reversal in former spouses’ attitudes to maintenance with more women than men now likely to regard payments as unfair.
She added that the Appeal Court’s rejection last year of a woman’s demands for continuing support from her former husband 11 years after they separated has had a “marked impact” on how all such cases were considered.
“What we’re effectively seeing is the death of the so-called ‘meal ticket’ which maintenance had long been regarded as by both husbands and wives.
“Indefinite awards – or ‘joint-lives’ orders – used to be something of a norm, a means of ensuring that the financially weaker spouse was provided for, especially until a couple’s children had grown up, when the arrangement might be revised.
“However, since a Court of Appeal ruling in February last year, there have been far more time-limited maintenance arrangements put in place.
“That is a perceptible shift and means that the burden of challenging the terms of support is no longer on the individual paying maintenance but the person receiving it.
“As a result, the current expectation in divorces heard across the country appears to be that wives should only receive support for such a period of time which, it is felt, allows them to retrain, if necessary, and find work rather than remain dependent on their ex-husband into the future.”
Ms Tootill’s observations of current trends in maintenance provision underline the impact of the Appeal Court ruling in the case of racehorse surgeon Ian Wright and his former wife, Tracey, last year.
Mrs Wright had argued that she should be entitled to continue to receive £75,000 a year in maintenance, as she had done since the couple’s divorce in 2008. Her husband had suggested that making the payments would become “unaffordable” after he retired.
Lord Justice Pitchford agreed, saying that it was "imperative that the wife go out to work and support herself."
The most recent figures published by the Ministry of Justice reveal that less than one-sixth of all divorce settlements now involve ongoing maintenance.
Ms Tootill said that the Wright ruling had already begun to have significant consequences for women.
“I’m aware of numerous examples of women who have been forced to come to terms with the prospect of providing for themselves, including cases of women who had not worked for three decades in order to raise a family, being obliged to find a job in their fifties.
“Wives can, of course, challenge that view but few seem willing to do so. They are aware that they might invest a lot of time and effort to ultimately get nowhere.
“That is particularly true since courts are more frequently using powers open to them under current divorce law to impose a bar, preventing the term over which maintenance is paid from being extended.“
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