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Interim Maintenance - What is it?

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Going through a divorce or civil partnership dissolution is stressful for everyone involved. There are so many threads to untangle with your former partner, from deciding on future living arrangements to sorting out childcare and deciding how to split your money and assets.

Financial matters can cause major issues for separating couples. It is necessary for the couple to divide their assets, property, and debts, known as reaching a financial settlement. This process can take many months to arrange, particularly if the couple cannot agree and need to obtain a court order.

In many cases, one partner is the primary earner which can make separation particularly daunting for the financially ‘weaker’ party. Some people in this situation may worry that they are unable to leave the relationship because of money.

However, there is an option available to help couples separate before the final financial settlement is worked out – interim maintenance payments. Below, we explain exactly how interim spousal maintenance works, how to obtain an Interim Maintenance Order from the court and how to challenge an Order if you believe it is unfair in the situation.

What is interim maintenance?

Interim spousal maintenance (or ‘maintenance pending suit’) is a type of spousal support paid by one partner to the other to provide immediate financial assistance after a relationship breakdown. It is intended to support the financially weaker party until the couple can reach a divorce financial settlement.

Interim maintenance payments will generally help the receiving party pay for accommodation, bills and essential household costs. Payments can be made in various ways, such as:

  • Payments into the receiving party’s bank account
  • Payments directly to the receiving party’s mortgage lender, landlord or utility companies
  • Payments into a joint account owned by both parties (this option usually isn’t appropriate if the couple are not able to cooperate with each other in respect of the finances)

Interim maintenance can either be agreed voluntarily between the parties, using methods such as mediation where appropriate, or one of the parties can apply to the court for an Interim Maintenance Order.

When might interim spousal maintenance be necessary?

Typically, interim spousal maintenance is necessary where one party to the divorce or dissolution has little or no income, for example, because:

  • They gave up work to raise the children or look after the household
  • They have a lower income because they paused their career to raise the children or look after the household
  • They have a disability and were supported by their spouse or civil partner prior to separation

Whether or not an individual receives interim spousal support will be judged on the specific circumstances of the divorcing couple, or the partners who are dissolving their civil partnership.

What is an Interim Maintenance Order?

Most couples are able to come to a voluntary agreement about interim spousal maintenance, using an impartial third party such as a mediator if necessary. If it is not possible to come to an agreement, either due to conflict, or issues that mean that negotiation is inappropriate- such as domestic abuse issues, then the couple will need to apply to court for an Interim Maintenance Order.

An Interim Maintenance Order is a decision by a judge about how much the interim maintenance payments should be and other matters such as:

  • When payments should be made
  • How payments should be made, e.g. into the receiving party’s bank account or directly to third parties such as mortgage lenders

The Interim Maintenance Order will typically stay in place until the divorce or dissolution has been finalised and the final financial settlement worked out. Interim spousal maintenance payments tend to be less than under the final order because they are only intended to support the receiving party while the long-term financial settlement is being considered.

What is the difference between maintenance and interim maintenance?

Interim maintenance, or maintenance pending suit, is a temporary agreement or order that stays in place while the divorce or dissolution proceedings are ongoing. Once the divorce or dissolution becomes final, the Interim Maintenance Order will come to an end. The long-term financial settlement will usually convert the interim maintenance into ongoing maintenance. The court will always examine the final settlement to ensure that it is fair to both parties.

How do I obtain an Interim Maintenance Order?

Either party to the divorce or dissolution proceedings can apply to the court for interim maintenance. However, wherever possible it is important to try to agree interim spousal maintenance voluntarily between you and your former partner as going to court tends to be more expensive and stressful. Your divorce solicitor will be essential in helping you negotiate and providing extra support to help you agree, such as mediation or collaborative law.

Before applying for an order, you must have either attended mediation or a Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (unless you are exempt) to check whether it is possible to make an arrangement out of court.

If a voluntary agreement is not possible, either party can apply to the court for an Interim Maintenance Order so long as the divorce or dissolution application has been issued. Any order made can be backdated to the date of the application. You can also apply if there are questions about the validity of the marriage.

To obtain an Interim Maintenance Order, you must show that you genuinely need the maintenance and provide supporting evidence. There are a number of court forms to complete, including Form A – for standard financial applications – and Form E – a statement about your income, expenditure, financial resources and needs. The court will examine all the information provided and make a decision according to what is fair in your individual circumstances.

If you would like support with your interim maintenance application, please do not hesitate to get in contact with our expert solicitors at Crisp & Co.

How much does an Interim Maintenance Order cost?

It is important to be aware that an Interim Maintenance Order application can be expensive and, if the payments you are seeking are small, the costs of the application may outweigh the benefits. In some cases, it may be possible to claim legal costs back from the other party, however, this isn’t a given. Your solicitor will talk you through the risks and potential benefits of applying for interim spousal maintenance so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.

What is the difference between maintenance pending suit and interim maintenance?

There is no difference in meaning between these two terms, maintenance pending suit and interim maintenance both refer to the same thing.

These terms mean that if a spouse will need financial support before reaching a divorce financial settlement, they may be eligible to receive regular payments from their ex-spouse. These interim payments may be negotiated between the divorcing spouses, or court-ordered depending on the situation.

How long is interim maintenance?

When receiving maintenance pending suit, there is not a set duration as such. Usually, the eligible spouse will continue to receive the payments until the divorce settlement is finalised. How long interim maintenance payments will continue depends on how long it takes to conclude the divorce financial settlement.

The average divorce settlement should take around 9 months, though where the financial situation is particularly complicated, it may take significantly longer.

What happens if interim maintenance is not paid?

If the Court has decided that one spouse will pay interim maintenance to the other, and that spouse has not followed through on this responsibility, there will be legal repercussions. Depending on the circumstances, these may include:

  • The spouse who is meant to be receiving interim payments can make a court application to initiate enforcement proceedings against the other spouse
  • The spouse who has avoided payment may be guilty of contempt of court, consequently receiving fines or other penalties
  • Failing to make interim payments may negatively impact the divorce financial settlement proceedings, (for the spouse who has avoided payment)

How is interim maintenance calculated?

Interim spousal maintenance is calculated by evaluating the needs of the individual who is receiving the payments, as well as how far the other party is capable of supporting them.

The figure is calculated based on an assessment of various factors, a few of which include:

  • The earning capacity, income, and financial resources of both individuals
  • The financial needs of both individuals
  • The liabilities and assets of both parties

Appealing an interim spousal maintenance order

You can appeal an Interim Maintenance Order by responding to your former partner’s court application. You may want to challenge an order if you disagree with your former partner about the extent of their income and/or financial resources and whether they genuinely require maintenance in the requested amount or at all. You may also want to challenge the application if you believe that you cannot afford the amount requested.

Depending on the circumstances, you can also appeal an Interim Maintenance Order after it has been made if you disagree with the court’s assessment of you or your former partner’s personal and financial situation.

Get advice about interim spousal maintenance from expert family law solicitors

Crisp & Co is a specialist firm of family law solicitors. We are highly experienced at handling complex and high value divorce and civil partnership dissolution matters for individuals across the country.

Our service includes clear, practical advice about sorting out financial matters through mediation or collaborative law, or by applying to court. Our focus is on finding creative, cost-effective solutions that will allow you to bring this stressful chapter of your life to a close as swiftly as possible.

For further information, visit our divorce and separation finance advice page or give us a call.