Media reports suggest that the actor Robert De Niro is looking to reduce the maintenance payments he makes for his ex-wife on the basis that his income has been hit by the results of Covid-19. That may come as a surprise to many given that he is a multi-millionaire and no doubt it was an even greater surprise to his ex-wife, but the underlying principle is applicable to many.
Maintenance for an ex-spouse is based on the income and expenses of both parties. Whilst long-term Maintenance Orders for spouses are now becoming rarer it can still happen that an order is made for a fixed period of years and there are many older orders which are for "joint lives". This means that they continue until one of the parties die or the recipient of the maintenance remarries.
With all Maintenance Orders there is provision for a review. Ideally this is dealt with by agreement but as with Robert De Niro, Court Proceedings can be pursued for a Judge to decide what is fair. A reduction of income of the payer can result in maintenance reducing or stopping altogether depending upon the circumstances. Very often it is crucial to ascertain whether or not the reduction is genuine but the coronavirus repercussions have resulted in many people having their income reduced and losing their jobs. These issues are therefore vital for many people. A variation is not changing the terms of a settlement but reviewing whether maintenance at a particular level continues to be fair and affordable, taking into account the income and expenses of both parties.
The Court's attitude has always been towards achieving a full clean break, i.e. no ongoing maintenance being paid. If an application to vary maintenance is made one of the options a Court then has is to end the maintenance with the payment of a lump sum. This is of course in this country where the emphasis is on trying to achieve a balance and achieving a fair outcome for both parties financially.
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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.