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Divorce orders about maintenance for life

Divorce orders about maintenance for life are bound to cause divergent views between people as it impinges on sense of worth and personal values according to Cheshire divorce solicitors Stonehewer Moss and a current appeal may give rise to out of time appeals or applications to  vary or discharge upon existing orders as the Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether “meal ticket for life” orders are lawful. This at least is the stated purpose of the Appeal as reported in the Times on Saturday in which the husband and appellant Mr Mills expresses personal revulsion about orders for maintenance without limit in time.

Whether your personal values currently include the sense that a spouse should work harder than the other spouse, or at all, to pay that spouse many years after separation and divorce will perhaps depend on your experience of life to now. Law tends to be a human construct, it is not divine morality like the Ten commandments, and reflects that life consists of changing experience. The likelihood of a black and white statement by the Supreme Court that no circumstance can justify maintenance for life must be doubted but anyone with an limitless order or facing such an outcome in a current divorce may wish to ask his or her solicitor to monitor progress of the appeal and advise if anything can be done in light of the decision. The reality is perhaps already recognised by the Court of Appeal from which the Mills case now progresses, as that Court clearly stated that Parliament would have to change the statute that applies in divorce to take away the discretion of the court to extend open ended orders. A judgment of the reason for the need to seek support from a spouse is in a way a moral decision, is the person in need deserving of support or at least not the author of his or her chronic need?

If the divorce court has been unable to find justification for a clean break, having a duty to consider whether adjustment to independence could be achieved immediately or in the foreseeable future, the current state of the law is that any term set without limit has to be brought to an end by discharge and without a clear finding of ability to stand on his or her feet by a stated time that can be hard to achieve. If the law is currently paternalistic, and many of the strongest views are expressed against lifetime orders for this reason, is not a matter an appeal court is likely to be able to address as the statute is law and can only be changed by Parliament making new law by statute. The following practical steps should be considered to try to limit the hurt of divorce court orders:-

  1. Agree roles and accept responsibility for the outcomes. If you dislike taking that responsibility, don`t expect your spouse to take the role that causes the need in the first place. Such agreement needs to be recorded in writing, ideally in a formal document such as a pre nup or post nup;
  2. Don`t marry. There is no equivalent jurisdiction at present for the unmarried to make income payment unless there are children. If you do marry, see 1 above;
  3. If it is  obvious you must pay for your spouse until her or she can adjust, agree a term and consent order that it ends after the stated period in a clean break. If your spouse has no prospect of future work, record this and circumstances in which you can seek variation or discharge or perhaps your spouse might be expected to be showing signs of taking responsibility for him or herself again. Include an agreement to mediate, collaborate or arbitrate variation and discharge procedures.
  4. Agree a recording about positive steps your receiving spouse reasonably should take to achieve financial independence, acknowledging his or her financial future is not linked to your own ability to earn but to their own ability in the future. If unfortunate enough to lack all ability to look after him or herself you should accept it if you are able to support him or her but revisit the order in the future as your circumstances change.

Divorce orders about maintenance for life are often made at the end of bitter court proceedings when your sense of the moral world has been tested and a judge, not addressing morality but the clock on the wall, makes a bare lifetime order without regard to practical steps to disengage from the mess the court will perhaps think you have allowed to happen; being realistic with yourself is the first step to limiting the damage and then have an end game for the fine detail to be recorded if lifetime orders are made.

For advice negotiation and representation in divorce finance cases please call 01606 872 200 or e mail visit


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