In a recent case the Court of Appeal decided that a wife aged 51 could not expect to continue to receive £75,000 per year in maintenance from her former husband and that she should find her own income. The Court made clear that the wife should not be supported for life. The wife had not got a job following her divorce after a marriage of 11 years, instead looking after the children of the marriage on a full time basis, even after they were attending school.
The media have hailed the judgement as a ‘landmark’ ruling, hoping that the case will be a step towards women being expected to be self-sufficient whether or not they have children. The age of the children is likely to be relevant. In this recent case the children were age six and over. It is surely unlikely that an ex-wife and mother would be expected to work with children who are not yet at school, and once children are of school age earning capacity may be limited to part time earnings
We will have to wait and see whether this case really does make a difference where there is an issue over whether, and how long, spousal maintenance should be paid. There will no doubt be many legal teams across the country using Wright v Wright as their authority to argue that a wife should go back to work rather than the Husband having to provide her with an income indefinitely.
The Court, in all cases, are still legally bound to meet the ‘needs’ of parties where possible and to try and maintain the standard of living all parties have been used to where the income and assets are available. Spousal maintenance will have a role to play in those cases where one party has an income greater than the other and sufficient to provide for themselves and their ex-spouses. More weight may now be put on the lower earning party to maximise their own income, reducing the need for payments for life or even at all What other financial provision has been made and the resources available will also be important. In the case of Wright v Wright the Wife had already received a £450,000 mortgage free property plus over £40,000 per year child maintenance, assets which clearly met her day-to-day needs.
It is therefore questionable how much weight the decision will have in cases which do not involve high income and/or high value assets, but many will view this decision as the court treating the sexes more equally ….time will tell!