201705.19

Paying Divorce Maintenance? Have Your Financial Circumstances Changed?

A decree absolute, ending a marriage, does not necessarily signal the end of judicial involvement in divorce. As one High Court case showed, financial arrangements can be revisited in the light of changed circumstances, including children growing up, the formation of new relationships and increases and decreases in income.

The case concerned a middle-aged NHS dentist and his care worker ex-wife who had two children during their 11-year marriage. After their relationship broke down, a decree absolute had been granted in 2011 and the wife had been awarded 53 per cent of the couple’s capital assets. The husband had also been required to pay her £2,250 in monthly maintenance.

The husband had since remarried and his new wife was expecting a baby. Whilst his financial responsibilities had increased, his income was said to have substantially dropped due to changes in NHS funding of dentistry. In those circumstances, a family judge agreed to reduce his maintenance payments to £2,000 per month. Provision was also made for their further reduction in stages as he approached retirement. However, the judge directed that the husband’s NHS pension, worth more than £190,000, should be shared equally with the wife.

The husband remained dissatisfied and, in challenging the judge’s order before the High Court, he presented fresh evidence as to his declining income and increased outgoings. In seeking a clean financial break, he claimed to be facing a deficit between his income and expenditure of £3,360 per month.

In rejecting his appeal, however, the Court could find no sufficient evidential basis on which to interfere with the judge’s clear and comprehensive conclusions. His decision to gradually decrease the wife’s maintenance payments until such time as they would be replaced by the pension sharing order was carefully crafted.

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