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Wright v Wright – capping spousal maintenance 12/07/2015

Mr and Mrs Wright married and separated in 2006. A financial order was made in 2008 which ordered the sale of the family home. The husband was an equine surgeon and the wife was a housewife who formerly had a career as a legal secretary which she gave up to raise the children. From the proceeds of the sale of the family home, the wife received a mortgage free house to accommodate her and the parties’ two daughters and the husband was ordered to pay spousal maintenance at a rate of £33,200 per annum until either party died or the wife remarried and an additional £10,400 per annum until the youngest of the children reached the age of 17.

In 2012 the husband applied to vary the order due to the fact that his income was not as high as had originally been anticipated and his outgoings were higher than when the original order was made. The increase in his expenses was partially due to the fact that, in the interim period, the parties had decided to send one of the children to an exclusive boarding school which the husband was paying for. The husband argued that there had been a material change in his circumstances since the original order was made and the court agreed.

The court held it appropriate in the circumstances to scale the spousal maintenance payments down between 2012 and 2019 to end with a clean break at the end of the period. This would tie in with the husband seeking to retire at age 65 and it would give the wife, who was considerably younger than the husband, a period of time to adjust and to secure employment.

The wife appealed this decision and was told very clearly by the judge “The world of work has innumerable possibilities these days: vast numbers of women with children just get on with it and Mrs Wright should have done the same”.

The ruling is expected to be replicated by the Family Courts throughout England and Wales and divorced women can no longer expect their spousal maintenance to last forever or even until the children reach adulthood. The Court of Appeal has sent a clear message that once the children turn 7 years of age there is an expectation that the primary carer will start work.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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