Divorcees facing costly maintenance bills are being urged to get expert legal advice after a new Appeal Court ruling.
Lord Justice Pitchford’s message to a non-working divorced mother to “just get on with it” and get a job opens the door for legal challenges to existing maintenance orders, warn solicitors Coles Miller.
Family law solicitor and mediator Richard Perrins said: “Maintenance tends to be a significant issue in around 35 per cent of divorce cases, especially those involving longer marriages.
“But maintenance - unlike many other court orders - can be varied. A lot of orders cannot be challenged but maintenance orders can,” he added.
The latest appeal decision - involving a rich vet who had been forced to pay his stay-at-home ex-wife £75,000 a year - will be followed by family courts across the UK.
The vet successfully argued that it was unfair to expect him to fund his ex-wife indefinitely when she had made no effort to get a job.
Mr Perrins said: “Based on this ruling, family courts across the UK will expect divorced homemakers with children aged over seven to get work and make a financial contribution.
“That may involve retraining if the homemakers have been out of the workplace for many years,” he added.
But while the appeal ruling may make pleasant reading for primary breadwinners with large maintenance bills, it may be very worrying for those who gave up their careers to bring up the children.
“A child of seven is still too young to be left at home. Some homemakers may struggle to find family-friendly employers prepared to let them take off six weeks each summer during school holidays,” said Mr Perrins.
“And what about all those working mothers who may never be able to earn more than the minimum wage? What of those who can never earn enough to pay for childcare?
“They may have little hope of career improvement or ever being able to earn enough to support their family.”
In reality, the courts would take all these factors into account - each case on its merits - and make a fair assessment of a homemaker’s ability to contribute financially to support themselves and their children, he added.
“However, homemakers with children over seven will increasingly be expected to demonstrate that they have been looking for work or undergoing retraining - so they will need to keep detailed records.”
And he warned: “Both parties in a divorce must accept that they are likely to face a drop in living standards after the split. It is only to be expected given that a family’s assets are being divided up.”
Divorcees wanting to review their maintenance arrangements or those worried that their payments could be cut should contact Coles Miller family law solicitor and mediator Richard Perrins , 01202 355698.