Should the house wife go back to work following a separation?

In circumstances where a husband and wife have made a decision at the start of a relationship for one of them (usually the wife) to stay at home and look after the children whilst the other (usually the husband) works, what should happen on separation? Should the husband continue to support the wife financially by paying spousal maintenance?

Judgement

There are no easy answers to these questions.  The Courts have a high level of discretion and will consider a list of factors when determining whether maintenance is payable.  Any dependent children will be the Court’s first consideration.

However, in an age of male and female equality, the Court will expect the wife to maximise her earning capacity and take all necessary steps to become self-supporting, unless a good reason can be shown to defeat this expectation.  For example, it could be relevant that the wife is nearing retirement age and would struggle to find gainful employment.

In the recent case of ‘Wright and Wright’ the Judge said that there is a general expectation that the ex-wife and mother with children over the age of seven should seek appropriate work compatible with the children’s educational requirements and without undue hardship.

If the wife cannot earn enough to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, then in certain circumstances the Court may still determine that maintenance is payable to “top up” the wife’s earnings.

The Court can order that maintenance be payable for life, however, this case demonstrates a move towards maintenance being reduced to a specific term and in certain circumstances maintenance no longer being paid, especially when at retirement age, as in this particular case.

It is important to note that any maintenance order can be varied at a later date if either the husband or wife’s circumstances change.

For further information please contact a member of our Family Department for more information and advice.

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