What Happens to a Financially Dependent Spouse after Divorce?

19 October 2017

By Family Law & Divorce Solicitor Sarah Milner

If you are financially dependent on your spouse, it can be very worrying thinking about how you will look after yourself if the marriage broke down and 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 it’s the case that you are financially dependent on your spouse, you do not need to worry that you will not have money to live on following separation and even after you are divorced. There are lots of options available to the Court when deciding what to do with the finances and if you have been dependant on your spouse, you may be able to seek ongoing financial assistance from them, even after the divorce has finalised.

How Will I Meet My Living Costs?

One of the biggest worries if you are financially dependent on your spouse is how you will meet your day to day living expenses if you were to separate. If the income you receive is not enough to meet your daily living expenses, you may be able to claim Spousal Maintenance from your spouse, particularly if they earn a higher income and have been supporting you financially throughout the marriage.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal Maintenance, formally known as ‘Periodical Payments’, is paid by one spouse (usually the higher earner) to the other (usually the financially weaker) to support them following separation and divorce. If the higher earning spouse has surplus income after meeting their living expenses, this surplus income can be paid to the financially weaker person to help them to meet their living expenses.

Spousal Maintenance can be for a defined period of time or end when a certain event occurs, however 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, and the duration of the marriage.

Order for Interim Spousal Maintenance

It can take some time for a couple to resolve financial matters between them following separation, whether this be by reaching an agreement or making an application to the Court.

If, after separation, your spouse refuses to continue to support you financially when they have done so throughout the marriage, and you’re unable to meet your living expenses as a result, you can make an application to the Court for an interim Spousal Maintenance Order. This is usually done on an urgent basis and the Court will simply be deciding on whether you are 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 you could instead 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 often may not be possible.

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