Despite London’s reputation as the divorce capital of the world, the tide is turning in relation to the notion that dependent spouses should be given a meal ticket for life following divorce - and that is to be welcomed.
In England and Wales, the family court has the power to make various orders to maintain a dependent spouse, the most onerous of which is a "joint lives order". That, in effect, creates a lifelong obligation to provide financial support.
The concept of joint lives maintenance is alien to many of our European family law colleagues. Even as close as Scotland the maximum maintenance term is a mere three years, regardless of the financially weaker party’s circumstances. In England, there is a distinction drawn between those cases heard in or around the capital and those dealt with outside of the M25, where joint lives maintenance orders are far less likely to be awarded.
As recently as five years ago, the family courts in London applied joint lives orders routinely, to the dismay of the wealthier party who was often the husband. However, in recent years, there have been a run of cases demonstrating a changing attitude in this area, through many judges’ propensity to be far more robust about the notion that a spouse who can earn an income should do so.
Judges expect hard evidence of the efforts of a spouse to maximise earning capacity, which usually include the production of a CV, evidence of suitable job searches and applications and potential earning capacity.
It is now becoming more common for judges to opt for a fixed term of spousal maintenance so as to encourage a transition to independence, particularly once the children of the family have commenced full-time education. This should serve to improve a spouse's often low sense of self-worth and confidence following an extremely difficult period in his or her life.
While the ultra-high net worth divorcees will remain immune from this change in approach, the real impact will be felt by the less well off. However, these changes start to bring the capital’s family courts in line with the rest of the nation – and the wider world – which is a positive move providing more consistency and fairness.
This article originally appeared in The Brief in April 2016.