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Court delays fuel disputes over family maintenance claims

Disputes between divorcing spouses over maintenance payments have doubled in the past year, fuelled by increasing delays in family court cases.

Maintenance disputes jumped from 898 in 2017-18 to 1,741 in 2018-19.

The disputes mostly centre on how much money rich husbands should pay in maintenance while the divorce case is going on, according to Boodle Hatfield, a law firm specialising in private wealth.

The average wait for the completion of a divorce recently reached almost 14 months as the family court system continues to be affected by budget cuts.

Boodle Hatfield said that “maintenance pending suit” orders were sought by the financially weaker party in a divorce — often the wives of higher-earning men.

James Ferguson, a partner at Boodle Hatfield, said it was especially common for wives to seek these orders if they and their children had been cut off from joint bank accounts and credit cards, and were struggling to support themselves during the divorce.

“Divorces are taking longer and longer to complete, and that is triggering more disputes over how divorcing wives can provide for themselves and their children as the process drags on,” he said.

“There is simply no such thing as a quickie divorce any more. It’s now common to see people having to survive for a year or more before a financial settlement is finalised. For divorcing partners without their own source of income, it might be impossible for them to provide for their children.”

Applications for maintenance pending suit orders are often coupled with applications for legal services orders. These give the financially weaker partner access to money from their ex-spouse to pay their legal fees.

Mr Ferguson said: “The desire to cut your spouse off from joint bank accounts and credit cards is a common emotional reaction in a divorce.

“But that can mean a judge ordering you to pay them a substantial amount of money every month as maintenance, even while the divorce is ongoing.”

This article first appeared in The Times on 3 July 2019. Find out more about our Family Law services.

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