Working out the financial consequences of divorce takes time and that is why judges have the power to make interim maintenance awards to bridge the gap. In an important ruling reviewed by family finance expert Stuart Barton, the Court of Appeal gave guidance on how that power should be exercised to provide for reasonable financial support and relieve hardship.
The case concerned a couple in their 40s who separated after 10 years of marriage. Pending a full financial remedies hearing, the wife sought interim maintenance under Section 22 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. A deputy district judge ordered the husband to pay her £2,850 a month. After the husband appealed, however, that order was overturned by a more senior judge.
In upholding the wife’s challenge to that outcome, the Court noted that the case raised an important point of principle. The power to award interim maintenance is an extremely valuable one in that it enables judges to meet the income needs of a spouse or children at a time when they might be in real need of financial support following separation and the commencement of proceedings.
Restoring the district judge’s order, the Court noted that there was nothing unusually complex about the wife’s application, which did not require extensive analysis. No further detail was required in the budget she put forward and the more senior judge had taken an overly restrictive approach to what constituted her immediate expenditure needs.
The district judge properly analysed the budgets submitted by each side and was entitled to conclude that the husband had sufficient resources to meet both their reasonable needs. As part of the interim award, she was also entitled to order the husband to pay the school fees of the younger of the family’s two children. Overall, she reached a fair decision as to what level of interim maintenance would be reasonable and the more senior judge had no proper basis for interfering with her decision.
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