Changes that might affect spousal maintenance payments

Paying or receiving spousal maintenance (periodical allowance in Scotland) can be difficult for both parties. It means having to re-think your household budget, while trying to get to grips with your new circumstances. Find out how changes in income, new relationships and other events might affect maintenance payments.

Changes to your spousal maintenance/ periodical allowance payments

If you’re having serious problems managing on the money you have, or if your ex-partner’s (husband, wife or civil partner) income has gone up a lot, it might be possible to have payments to you increased.

In the same way, if you make payments to your ex-partner and your income goes down, you can ask for the payments to be reduced.

In either situation, it’s important to act quickly.

Reaching an agreement

If you and your ex-partner can’t agree a change to payments given or received, it’s worth considering using mediation. This involves a trained mediator helping you agree a decision, and it’s much cheaper than going to court.

Be aware that if you or your ex-partner are trying to change (or ‘vary’ in legal language) a court order, only the court can do this.

When you reach another agreement, through mediation or another way, you need to ask the court to endorse it. Otherwise, the original order keeps running and could lead to problems about arrears.

If you can’t reach an agreement, applying directly to the court might be the only option. But it’s expensive and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the result you want.

It’s important to get legal advice to see what your options are before you do this.

Changes in income or wealth

A significant change to your financial situation might include losing your job, starting a new job on a much lower salary, ill health or disability.

It can also mean the exact opposite: finding a new job with a much higher salary or inheriting or winning a large sum of money.

Capitalising spousal maintenance/periodical allowance payments

If the paying ex-partner’s financial situation improves significantly (their income or capital wealth), it might be possible to ‘capitalise’ the maintenance payments.

This means that the person who receives the maintenance would get a one-off lump sum and the maintenance payments would stop. This is called a ‘clean break’.

Courts will always want to consider whether a ‘clean break’ is financially possible without causing either person unfair hardship.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland, both you and your ex-partner would have to agree to capitalising payments.

Changes if you enter a new relationship

Maintenance payments to you will stop if you remarry or enter a new civil partnership.

Living with someone else in a relationship, without marrying or entering a civil partnership, doesn’t automatically mean that payments from your ex-partner will stop.

But they could ask you to agree to reduce the amount or stop payments altogether. This is on the basis that there’s someone else who’s now contributing to your living costs. This can be complicated so it’s worth getting legal advice.

Changes to child maintenance

If you or your ex-partner’s income or wealth changes substantially, you might be able to adjust the level of child maintenance payments.

If you have a family-based arrangement with your ex-partner, you can talk to them about making changes.

It’s important that you check with a solicitor about updating the court order (if you have one) that contains previous agreements on child maintenance payments.

If you move in with a new partner and you’re receiving child support, this won’t be affected by your relationship – whether or not you marry or enter a civil partnership.

But you can agree with your ex-partner to change the level of payments if, for example, income levels change.

If stepchildren are involved, it might be worth getting legal advice.

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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