Spousal maintenance orders (i.e. orders requiring one spouse to pay maintenance to the other) made on divorce must not last beyond the death of either of the parties or the remarriage of the party in whose favour the order was made.
So, if the order comes to an end when the recipient’s spouse remarries, what happens if they cohabit with another person? Does that also mean that the order comes to an end?
Does spousal maintenance stop if you cohabit?
The answer is that the cohabitation of the recipient spouse does not automatically bring the maintenance order to an end. However, it may result in a downward variation of the order.
The way that this can work was demonstrated in the recent Family Court case KG v NB.
What affects spousal maintenance?
Change of circumstances
As indicated above, if the recipient of spousal maintenance cohabits and the paying (former) spouse wishes to have the maintenance reduced, then they should apply to the court for an order varying the maintenance downwards.
When considering a variation application, the court will have regard to all of the circumstances of the case, including, in particular, any change of circumstances since the order was made.
If the change in circumstances is such that it alters the financial needs of the recipient spouse, then that may justify a variation of the amount payable under the maintenance order.
Clearly, the fact that the recipient spouse is cohabiting is a change in circumstances that may alter the financial needs of the recipient spouse, and if it reduces their needs, then it will be relevant to a variation application.
As the judge in KG v NB explained in his judgment, the cohabitation should be ‘settled’. Accordingly, if the cohabitation has just begun, or if it is not of a permanent nature, then it may not amount to a change of circumstances.
However, as the judge also pointed out, any decision not to marry for the purposes of keeping the maintenance would be conduct that could result in the maintenance being stopped entirely.
The case concerned an application by the (former) husband to vary an order made in 2019 requiring him to pay maintenance to his former wife at the rate of £1,500 per month until the 28th of March 2027, when it would reduce to £1,250 per month until the 28th of March 2036, when the maintenance order will terminate.
The husband argued that the order should be reduced to £625 per month on the basis that the wife had been cohabiting since 2020. Her new partner made a significant financial contribution to reduce the mortgage on the wife’s home; he contributed over £1,000 per month towards the wife’s household budget, and his financial support made it easier for the wife to seek employment.
Level of Commitment
The judge made the following findings.
Firstly, the wife’s new relationship had a high level of commitment, which, whilst falling short of marriage, was nonetheless of significance in relation to the variation application.
Secondly, it was not fair or reasonable to impose on the wife’s new partner an expectation of working more to fund the wife’s household.
He was contributing a fair and appropriate balance to the domestic economy of the wife, and it was not appropriate to expect a greater level of support at this time.
Thirdly, he did not think that the husband’s argument that the wife should be working carried great weight, particularly in light of health issues from which the wife suffered.
Lastly, under the divorce settlement, the wife would have to sell her property when the youngest child finishes secondary education, likely in the summer of 2026, whereupon the husband would receive 30% of the net proceeds. The judge considered it likely that the wife and her new partner would then pool their resources and be in a position to fund a mortgage-free property.
Taking all of the above into account, the judge held that the maintenance should be reduced to £750 per month on the youngest child leaving secondary education and then continue at that rate until it ends in 2036.
Disclaimer: The information on the TV Edwards website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication.