6. If there is a change of financial status for a spouse, will the maintenance order be subsequently adjusted or varied by the Court?
As periodic maintenance payments can last for a number of years, their level is open to variation if there is a subsequent change in the circumstances of either party such as the loss of employment or inflation.
The original order can be varied to reflect the change in circumstances.
Note that no clean break can be achieved with child's maintenance, which can always be varied, according to the needs of the child. It is usually varied upwards as the child grows older and becomes more expensive to maintain.
Example one: Mr. A applied for a reduction in the payments he was making to his ex-wife because he had been made redundant and the only replacement job he could find had a considerably lower salary. The Court may accept that he could no longer afford to pay at the old rate.
Example two: Connie found two years after the award of financial maintenance that she could no longer manage on the maintenance she was receiving. Her former husband had received a pay rise and agreed that the payments should be increased. The original order may be varied to reflect such change of circumstances.
Sometimes parties would agree that maintenance should be increased annually by a certain percentage or in line with an established inflation measuring index. This can avoid making costly regular applications back to the Court.
However, note that not all kinds of court orders can be varied.
The following orders can be varied:
- Interim maintenance (Maintenance pending suit)
- Periodical payments
- The instalments by which a lump sum is payable
- An order for the sale of property.
The following orders cannot be varied:
- Lump sum orders
- Property adjustment orders
That is because these orders (lump sum orders & property adjustment orders) are 'once and for all' orders. They are intended to create finality in litigation so that the parties can put their antipathy behind and plan for the future without worrying about whether an order will be overturned.