In today’s society it is still not uncommon for one spouse to work fewer hours than their husband or wife or not to work at all. This can be for a variety of reasons. It may be for reasons of childcare or caring responsibilities or it may simply be that one spouse earns sufficient money to support the household.
When parties separate however, expectations change, particularly when trying to make one household’s previous income stretch to cover two separate households.
The spouse who previously did not work or worked reduced hours will understandably feel that it is unfair that they should suddenly be expected to work full time, particularly if it was not their decision for the marriage to come to an end.
The spouse who previously made a greater contribution may feel that when the marriage ends then so should their responsibility to support their spouse and may understandably feel that it is unfair to them to continue to work long hours whilst their ex does not.
When considering a matrimonial settlement, if there is a disparity in incomes between the parties then it is important to consider whether it is appropriate for one party to pay spousal maintenance to another.
Many people mistakenly think that spousal maintenance is an automatic right. This is not the case. A need for spousal maintenance must be proven. This involves looking at each party’s income and the amount that they need to meet their reasonable outgoings. One important factor to consider is whether the party claiming spousal maintenance is maximising their earning capacity. This means considering whether that person is doing all they can to try support themselves by increasing their hours or taking up paid work.
Another common misconception is that the spouse who has worked and supported the family through their income will be entitled to a larger financial settlement. This is not the case. Non financial contributions such as taking on the childcare and being at home with the children are not seen as any less valuable than paid employment.
Each case will be different and there may be very good reasons why a person is not able to increase their income. This may be due to childcare or for health reasons. In the absence of such reasons however, the Courts will generally expect that party to be maximising their own earning capacity before looking to spousal maintenance.
Having said that however, there is a need to be realistic. A person who has limited skills or who has been out of the workplace for a long period of time is unlikely to be able to match the earnings of a spouse who has not had a break in their career.
Whether spousal maintenance should be paid needs careful assessment and it is important that you seek advice as early as possible on the matter so that an agreement can be reached which is fair to both parties.
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