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, to deciding how to split your money and assets.
Financial matters can cause major issues for separating couples. Financial settlements that split the couple’s assets and set out ongoing spousal support arrangements can take many months to sort out, 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 and some fear being 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 court and how to challenge an Order if it has been unfairly made.
What is interim spousal maintenance?
Interim maintenance (or ‘maintenance pending suit’) is a type of spousal support paid by one partner to the other to provide immediate financial assistance after relationship breakdown. It is intended to support the financially weaker party until the couple can sort out a final financial settlement and their divorce or civil partnership dissolution is finalised.
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 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
What is an Interim Maintenance Order?
Most couples are able to come to a voluntary agreement about interim maintenance, using an impartial third party such as a mediator wherever necessary. However, where it is not possible to come to an agreement – either because the parties have tried to agree but not been successful or where it is inappropriate for the parties to negotiate, for example, because of domestic violence issues – it may be necessary 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 a 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 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 interim and final maintenance?
Interim maintenance 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 court for interim maintenance. However, wherever possible it is important to try to agree interim 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 voluntary agreement is not possible, either party can apply to 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.
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 maintenance so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.
How does mediation work?
Family mediation is a popular method of alternative dispute resolution that separating couples can use when negotiating divorce or dissolution matters, including financial matters such as interim maintenance.
The process involves attending a series of meetings with your former partner to try to come to an agreement. A neutral third party – the mediator – will also be present to guide your discussions and help defuse conflict. The mediator is specifically trained to help you get your thoughts and feelings across so mediation can be particularly helpful for couples who want to cooperate but struggle to communicate. The mediator will not provide legal advice, take sides or make a judgment so it is not like going to court – any agreement you make will be entirely down to you and your former partner.
If the mediation process is successful, the mediator will put your agreement into writing for you.
How does collaborative law work?
Like mediation, collaborative law can be used to work out interim maintenance between you and your former partner without having to apply to court for an Interim Maintenance Order. Collaborative lawyers are specifically trained to help individuals negotiate family law related agreements in a calm, neutral environment.
The process involves attending a series of meetings with your former partner and your respective collaborative lawyers to try to come to an agreement. Your collaborative lawyer will provide you with legal advice throughout the process and can negotiate on your behalf. You can also invite other professionals such as financial advisors and accountants to these meetings making collaborative law perfect for couples with complex or high value finances.
How do I challenge an Interim Maintenance Order?
You can challenge 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 either informally, using 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 and positively as possible.