Changes that may affect maintenance payments

If you’re paying or receiving spousal maintenance (periodical allowance in Scotland) or child support, changes in your or your ex-husband, wife or civil partner’s finances may affect the amounts involved.

Changes to your spousal maintenance/periodical allowance payments

If you’re having significant difficulties managing on the amount of money you have, or if the income of your ex-partner (husband, wife or civil partner) has increased significantly, then it may be possible to have payments to you increased.

In the same way, if you make payments to your ex-partner and your income position worsens, you can ask for the level of the payments to be reduced.

In either scenario, it’s important to act quickly so you don’t build up large arrears.

Reaching an agreement

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

But remember, if you or your ex-partner are trying to change a court order (called ‘vary’ in legal language), then only the court can do this. Once you reach another agreement, through mediation or other means, you need to ask the court to endorse it. Otherwise, the original order just keeps running and could lead to major complications over arrears.

If you can’t reach an agreement, applying directly to the court may be the only option. However, it’s expensive and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the outcome you want. You should get legal advice to see what your options are before you do this.

Read our guide Your options for legal or financial advice on divorce or dissolution.

Changes in income or wealth

Significant change to your financial position might include losing your job with no immediate prospect of finding a new one, 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 financial position – the income or capital wealth – of the paying ex-partner improves significantly, then it may 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 (called a ‘clean break’). Courts will always want to consider whether a ‘clean break’ is financially possible without causing either person undue 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 he or she could ask you to agree to reduce the amount, or stop payments altogether.

This is on the basis that there is someone else who is now contributing to your living costs.

This can be complicated so it’s worth taking legal advice.

Changes to child maintenance

If there is a substantial change in income or wealth available to you or your ex-partner then you may 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 him or her about making changes. You should check with your solicitor about updating any 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 may be worth taking legal advice.

Check with Child Maintenance Options to see what your options are.