The days of long-term spousal maintenance awards are very much a thing of the past replaced with a more fixed term approach following decisions in cases such as Wright v Wright (2015) where Mrs Wright’s lifetime spousal maintenance award was reduced because the court decided that she could or should work and support herself and in the case of Waggott v Waggott (2018) when Mrs Waggott’s lifetime award was reduced to a three year term.
The entitlement to spousal maintenance once a marriage has broken down is a hot potato. Many breadwinners, usually but not always husbands, feel that an obligation to continue to financially support a homemaking spouse is unfair and they should be free to enjoy their post separation income as they see fit. For homemakers however, who have been out of the employment market, often for years, whilst they focus on child caring responsibilities, ongoing spousal maintenance is an essential lifeline without which they could not financially survive. Child caring is an unpaid job more often undertaken by the partner who earns less. Years spent childcaring instead of breadwinning means that employment skills become rusty and outdated and contributions towards pension pots stall. It can take time for a homemaker to get back on their working feet.
The timing of a marriage breakdown can hit female homemakers particularly hard if it coincides with the end of child caring responsibilities and the onset of the menopause or peri menopause. This is a time in their life when the courts now expect female homemakers to get to work and start the journey to financial independence from their partners. However, a recent survey found that one in twenty menopausal women had been forced to leave their jobs because of their disabling symptoms and an absence of support within the workplace. Critics argue that limiting the period over which spousal maintenance should be paid risks having a profound financial impact on women suffering from debilitating menopausal symptoms affecting their earning capacity post separation and places these women at risk of financial hardship. Breadwinners on the other hand may argue that the responsibility to support their ex’s is not theirs and that employers and the state need to set in place greater practical and financial support in the workplace for the one in four women who are reported to suffer with debilitating symptoms.