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Can maintenance orders be changed?

Maintenance orders, where one spouse pays the other one regular payments, are a relatively common element of a divorce settlement. The courts can order maintenance to be paid for a set period of time or for life (although lifetime maintenance orders are less common than they used to be).

When it comes to divorce and financial settlements, spousal maintenance is one of the most common topics we are questioned about. In this article, we’ll explain what spousal maintenance is, who could be entitled to it and how you can work out how much spousal maintenance you may receive.


What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is the regular, ongoing payments paid from one spouse to the other as part of the divorce financial settlement.

It is different from child maintenance, the purpose of which is to support the children.


Who is entitled to spousal maintenance?

In general, those who have been married for a longer period of time may be more likely to receive spousal maintenance.

In some instances, if the marriage has been particularly long, spousal maintenance could be paid on a ‘joint lives’ basis. This means that the maintenance will be paid for life. However, this is becoming less common than it once was, as more and more couples strive for a ‘clean break’ divorce.

If a marriage has lasted for less than 5 years, spousal maintenance may be less likely to form part of the divorce settlement. Alternatively, it could be that a shorter marriage may result in spousal maintenance only being paid for a short amount of time.

However, every case is different, which is why it is important to get legal advice for your specific circumstances.

If, for example, one spouse gave up work to be the homemaker and the other spouse continued to work, the homemaker could make a case that they are entitled to spousal maintenance because they cannot financially support themselves now the marriage has come to an end.

Factors such as the age of each spouse and whether there are any children involved, could affect the amount of spousal maintenance (or if it forms a part of the financial settlement at all).

How long spousal maintenance will last and how much it will be, or whether it will form part of the financial settlement at all, will depend on your particular circumstances.

Most importantly, it is only if one spouse is unable to support themselves financially without spousal maintenance, that spousal maintenance should be paid.


How would I work out how much spousal maintenance I could receive?

As part of the financial settlement process, you and your spouse will be required to carry out full and frank disclosure of your finances.

In order to roughly calculate possible spousal maintenance, you will need to work out both your and your spouse’s income and expenditure. Make sure that you do this on the basis that you will be living apart from each other. It is also important to understand both of your potential future earnings.

Your divorce solicitor should be able to advise you of approximately how much spousal maintenance you could be entitled to receive.

Spousal maintenance can be an extremely complex area of law. It is highly recommended that you speak to solicitor for advice tailored to your individual circumstances.


Can maintenance orders be changed?

Maintenance orders are not set in stone and can be changed in some circumstances. The case of Mills v Mills is a good illustration of what can happen when one spouse applies for a maintenance order to be changed.


Mills v Mills – what happened?

When Mr and Mrs Mills divorced in the early 2000s, Mrs Mills received the majority of the money from the sale of their house. The business, which was the family’s main source of income, stayed with Mr Mills.

Mr Mills paid Mrs Mills £1,100 per month in spousal maintenance on a ‘joint lives’ basis. This meant that he would have to continue paying the maintenance until either one of them died or Mrs Mills (the recipient of the maintenance) married again.

Four years ago, in 2015, Mr Mills went back to court, as he wanted the order to be changed so that the maintenance payments would end on a certain date, not continue for the rest of their lives (or until Mrs Mills remarried). He also wanted the amount he paid to be reduced.

On the other side, Mrs Mills applied for the amount to be increased and for the order to remain on a ‘joint lives’ basis.

The judge found that Mrs Mills “needs” with regards to maintenance, equated to £1,441 per month. However, Mr Mills was ordered to continue to pay the £1,100 for life.

At appeal, the Court of Appeal increased the maintenance payments to £1,441 per month.

The Supreme Court decided against this at the next appeal and the payments went back to £1,100 per month.

maintenance order

Changing maintenance payments

The courts have a very wide discretion with regards to maintenance payments. Every case is different and the outcome will vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

What Mills v Mills does show us, is that maintenance orders can indeed be changed, if the circumstances warrant it. However, applying to the courts for, for example, maintenance payments to be decreased can, in fact, result in the judge deciding that the maintenance payments should actually be increased.

It can work the same the other way around too – applying for an increase in maintenance could result in a decrease. By the same token, asking for the term of maintenance payments to be reduced, could result in the exact opposite.

What all of this highlights, is the importance of seeking expert legal advice from an experienced family solicitor if you intend to apply to have changes made to a maintenance order, so that you are fully aware of what the consequences may be.


How can our expert divorce solicitors help you?

Our expert divorce solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues:


Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email

Our expert divorce solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in our:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

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Please contact us for more details. 

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21st March 2019

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