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I am struggling financially – can I ask my ex for more money?

If you are receiving spousal maintenance from your former husband, wife or civil partner you may be able to ask for an increase in payments if your circumstances have changed and your former spouse or partner can afford it. Linda Pope family law expert at Miles & Partners in London explains the rules about changing the amount of financial support you receive after divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership.

When might a variation of spousal maintenance be appropriate?

A variation of spousal maintenance might be appropriate if the circumstances of either you or your former spouse or civil partner have changed since the amount of spousal maintenance was first agreed.

An application can be made at any time, although if you are applying to extend the length of your current spousal maintenance order you must ensure that you make your application before the existing order expires.

Who can apply for a variation?

Both you and your former spouse or civil partner can apply to vary a spousal maintenance order. You may wish to apply for an increase if your circumstances have changed for the worse, but equally your ex may wish to apply for a reduction if their circumstances justify it.

Why might a variation be appropriate? 

Common reasons for an application to vary spousal maintenance include:

  • Change in employment status – your former spouse or partner may seek to reduce the amount they are paying if their employment status changes and they are worse off. They may also seek a reduction if your employment situation improves and your earnings increase.
  • Cohabitation – it is likely that if you start to live with someone else on a permanent basis your former spouse or civil partner will look to reduce the amount they pay to you or to even stop payments altogether. Most spousal maintenance orders will provide for maintenance to end once you have been cohabiting for a certain amount of time.
  • Retirement – most people who retire will see a drop in their income; however, they may also benefit from a lump sum when they start drawing their pension which may justify spousal maintenance being revisited.
How do I apply to vary spousal maintenance?

Your solicitor can make an application to the court on your behalf and usually your application will be considered within four to eight weeks, although it may take longer before a final decision is made.

To enable the court to consider your application properly it is important that you provide full details of your financial circumstances, together with an explanation of how these have changed since the original spousal maintenance order was made. Your former spouse or civil partner will also have to provide details about their financial position.

When considering the application, the court’s primary concern will be to ensure the continued welfare of any dependent children. However, account will also be taken of the wider circumstances of the case, including income versus outgoings for both of you, as well as your employment status and any health issues.

What order might the court make?

The court can make a range of orders, depending on the circumstances. Maintenance payments may be increased or reduced, the length of time for which maintenance must be paid may be extended or shortened, or, if your former spouse or civil partner can afford it, an order may be made for all your maintenance to be paid at once in the form of a lump sum. This last option is called ‘capitalisation’.

Is there an alternative to going to court?

There are alternative ways in which a variation to spousal maintenance can be achieved. Mediation or collaborative law can be a quicker and more cost-effective way of resolving the matter and is something the courts actively encourage you to try first.

There is a great degree of uncertainty in these cases due to the very broad discretion of the courts. Each case will turn on its own facts.

If you need advice about spousal maintenance, or any other family law matter, please contact Linda Pope.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.