Spousal maintenance: A 'meal ticket' for life?
A recent Court of Appeal decision bucks the trend on maintenance provision, says Ronnie Mortimer
Much has been written in the press following the Court of Appeal’s decision between Cambridge University law lecturer Dr Kathleen Liddell and her former husband, Goran Mickovski, as this case seems to buck the trend over the past few years where the courts have become less generous in terms of maintenance provision, both as to quantum and term.
Liddell and Mickovski divorced in 2011 following an 11-year marriage. Their wealth amounted to £1.2m, which included an £800,000 home in Islington, north London. Liddell received a lump sum payment of £550,000, which she used towards purchasing a five-bedroom property for herself and their children. In return for the lump sum payment, Liddell transferred her entire interest in the family home to Mickovski. She received an award of £723 a month spousal maintenance from him.
At the Court of Appeal, Mickovski unsuccessfully argued that as Liddell had increased her income by working full time, the decision not to end spousal maintenance had left her more comfortable than she needed to be.
Appeal judges Lady Justice Macur and Lady Justice Eleanor King disagreed with Mickovski and congratulated Liddell for getting herself back to work full time while having to care for her very young children. It was accepted by the Court of Appeal that Liddell needed ‘to work in order to survive financially’, as she was struggling to meet her outgoings. In essence, the spousal maintenance she received from her former husband was just not enough in the first place.
Despite arguing that Liddell was now in a position to be financially independent and that she could adjust without undue hardship to the immediate termination of maintenance, Mickovski’s case backfired and he was branded by the judge as ‘belligerent, unhelpful, and dictatorial’.
He was ordered to continue paying Liddell spousal maintenance until he paid her a lump sum of £34,000, which would then terminate his liability.
The case illustrates the nature of litigation in family cases leading to future uncertainty around orders for spousal maintenance. Family cases are decided on a case-by-case basis and this decision does not necessarily set a precedent for the future.
One should always bear in mind the advantages for parties to agree a financial settlement out of court, such as saving costs (the general rule is that each party pays their own costs) and determining their own destiny by agreeing the terms of settlement. Perhaps if these parties had done so, Mickovski could have avoided the costs order against him.
As said, this case seems to buck a recent trend and may mean parties paying maintenance will think long and hard before applying back to court seeking variations or terminations of their maintenance liabilities.
Ronnie Mortimer is a solicitor in the family department at Wedlake Bell