Divorce Maintenance Orders Are Not Written in Stone

An individual’s financial circumstances can change dramatically post-divorce and the courts retain power to vary orders to make allowance for unforeseen events. In one case, the High Court reduced a husband’s immediate maintenance liabilities by more than £20,000 a year after he fell on hard times.

Following the couple’s divorce after a 12-year marriage, a judge ordered the sale of the family home and payment of a £1.6 million lump sum to the wife from the proceeds. The husband was also directed to pay £65,000 a year in maintenance to the wife and their son, along with the latter’s private school fees.

The wife, although a mathematics graduate, had devoted herself to caring for the child and had a very limited earning capacity. The husband, who had reached retirement age since the divorce, had never worked and had relied entirely for his income on a family foundation established by his father.

Since the divorce, the family home had failed to sell for the £6 million that had been expected and the husband had elected to buy the wife out by paying her a £1.6 million lump sum. He had borrowed that money and was incurring interest on the loan of £64,000 a year. The sums available to him from the foundation had dwindled sharply and he was under intense financial pressure.

In the circumstances, the Court agreed to reduce his maintenance payments to £42,000 a year. However, the difference between that sum and the maintenance originally ordered would be tallied up and the balance paid to the wife once a sale of the property was achieved. The Court refused to waive payment of almost £40,000 that the husband had built up in arrears of maintenance and that sum too would be deducted from the sale proceeds and paid to the wife.