What happens to a financially dependent spouse after divorce?

11 February 2021

If you are financially dependent on your spouse and are getting a divorce, it's important to understand how the court will protect your financial security. There are lots of options available to the court and you may be able to get ongoing financial assistance from your spouse, even after the divorce has finalised.

If you are financially dependent on your spouse, it can be very worrying thinking about how you will look after yourself if the marriage breaks down. For this reason, many people stay in an unhappy marriage for fear of the unknown.

There can be lots of reasons why one spouse is financially dependent on the other. They may have given up work to care for the children or be unable to work due to illness, or it may just be that their spouse earns a high income and it was agreed that the other did not have to work.

If you are financially dependent on your spouse and getting divorced, you don't need to worry about not having money to live on. There are lots of options available to the court when deciding what to do with the finances. If you have been financially dependant on your spouse during the marriage, you may be entitled to ongoing financial assistance, even after you've got divorced.

How will I meet my living costs?

One of the biggest worries of a financially dependent spouse can be how to cover day to day living expenses after separating.

If the income you receive is not enough to meet your daily living expenses, you may be able to claim spousal maintenance as part of the divorce. This is a maintenance payment that your ex-spouse will make to you, to help cover your living costs. This is common if they earn a higher income and have been supporting you financially throughout the marriage.

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is paid by one spouse (usually the higher earner) to the other (usually the financially weaker) to support them following separation and divorce. Spousal maintenance was formally known as ‘periodical payments’.

If the higher earning spouse has surplus income after meeting their living expenses, this can be paid to the financially weaker spouse to help them to meet their living expenses.

Spousal maintenance payments can be made for a defined period of time or end when a certain event occurs. It will always end if the person receiving the payments remarries. How much you receive and how long for will depend on lots of factors, including: - your income and earning potential - your age and health - the duration of the marriage

Order for interim spousal maintenance

It can take some time for a couple to resolve the financial matters between them following separation. This can be either by reaching an agreement or by making an application to the court to settle the finances.

If your spouse refuses to continue supporting you financially after separation and you’re unable to meet your living expenses as a result, you can apply to the court for an interim spousal maintenance order. This is usually done on an urgent basis and the court will simply be deciding whether you're entitled to any spousal maintenance (and how much this should be) until the financial matters between you have been finalised.

What if I want a clean break from my spouse?

Some people do not like the idea of receiving ongoing financial assistance form their spouse following divorce, and would prefer to have a clean break. If you would be entitled to receive spousal maintenance but want a clean break instead, you can ask for a lump sum to be paid by your spouse to ‘buy out’ your claim for spousal maintenance. This would only be a possibility if your spouse had money available to be able to pay the lump sum, which is not always the case.

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