There has been much interest in the press over the last
couple of days, following the Court of Appeal decision in the Wright case.
The somewhat simplistic message coming out of this case, at
the current time, is that wives cannot be expected to rely upon pay-outs from
their wealthy former husbands indefinitely or beyond his retirement, with the Court
of Appeal indicating that those mothers with children over the age of 7 years
old should obtain part time work.
The transcript of the judgment has not been published but it
does seem that this case, at the very least, signifies a renewed focus by the
court on the issue of when wives can be expected to become self-sufficient
following their divorce.
It is always helpful to look at the wording of the relevant
legislation, in order to make sense of these so called landmark decisions.
The relevant law says that the purpose of spousal
maintenance is to enable a wife, following a divorce, to adjust to the
termination of her financial dependence upon her husband “without undue
hardship”. The court must also consider
whether it is appropriate to terminate the financial obligations between the
parties as soon as the court feels is reasonable.
Whilst what is known as “joint lives” spousal maintenance (i.e.
until one party dies) might once have been fairly common in the London courts
we have, in any event, seen a decrease in the number of these orders over the
last ten years or so with the court giving considerable scrutiny to the wife’s
ability to become self-sufficient and making maintenance orders for limited
periods of time, in order to enable her to do so.
What the Wright decision therefore appears to do is
reinforce the existing law and crystalizes the trend that we have been seeing
over the last ten years or so.
However, where the decision of the Court of Appeal appears
to be highly significant is the proposition by the court that the point at
which a wife would be expected to be self-sufficient is when the children are
aged 7 years old.
This may well have
repercussions in not only new cases being determined by the court, but also old
cases where the court has previously made a joint lives order with fathers, on
the basis of the decision, making
applications back to the court for their spousal maintenance orders to be brought
to an end at an earlier date.
On the basis of the Wright decision, fathers, who are over
the age of 50 and are considering early retirement, may wish to take legal
advice as to how the decision may affect them, in the event that they are
subject to a joint lives spousal maintenance order.
We will be able to provide more information about this
important decision once the transcript is made available but would, in the
meantime, be pleased to discuss any queries that you may have.
is a solicitor at Cripps and a specialist in child support law. You can view
his profile here or contact him on Benjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org