Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors

A judge orders you to pay 45% of your salary in maintenance: what now?

The recent case of T v M* demonstrates that the answer to this question is not “wait four months and then ask the judge to change his order”.

In T v M, the final hearing of the financial case was heard for four days in 2010.  The district judge concluded that the right maintenance order in the case was 7,250 euros per month to go to the wife together with 35% of the husband’s annual bonus, plus 1,000 euros of child maintenance per month, upto a maximum payout of 192,000 euros per annum. The husband’s salary was 18,490 euros per month, plus bonus, so in rough terms, he was paying 45% of his basic salary and 35% of his bonus to his former wife as a result of that final maintenance order.

The husband re-applied to the court four months after that order was made.  He applied to the court to vary (and reduce) the maintenance order that had been made in his wife’s favour.  The reason he did this was that shortly after the final order had been made, the wife took on a 1.5 million euro mortgage in her own name, releasing him from the mortgage on the family home.  He felt that this proved that she was earning in her own right much more income than she had declared in the final hearing, and he wanted the amount he had to pay to be reduced accordingly.

The husband was not allowed by the court to continue with his application.  He appealed to a higher court. The High Court judge hearing that appeal said that “it is a very, very high bar that he has to get over to persuade a court to vary an order made as recently as 4 months previously” and felt that the husband had no reasonable grounds for bringing the application, and agreed that the court had been right to stop it in its tracks.

The difficulty in this case was that the husband was asking the court to change its mind about the appropriate level of maintenance, but the evidence he was able to put forward only comprised of  screenshots from the wife’s business websites, showing she was leading a busy life, and the fact she had taken on a large mortgage since the final hearing.  The husband did not like what he had been ordered to do, and wanted to change the amount, but there had been no substantive change to the facts on which the case had been determined.  At the hearing back in 2010 the judge had raised concerns about whether the wife had been entirely frank about her levels of earnings, but this did not persuade the appeal judge to re-examine the case.  The appeal judge said that he could not think of another case when an application to vary had been submitted so soon after an order had been made. If it had been the case that the husband’s income had dropped significantly as a result of illness or redundancy, perhaps the court might have been more sympathetic to an application to vary being issued so quickly, but the court was clearly not willing to entertain the husband’s application in this case.

If you are ordered to pay maintenance at a level which you do not consider is fair when you are going through the financial remedy process on divorce or dissolution, explore the option to immediately appeal that judgment – but the appeal court will need to agree with you that the order is plainly wrong before it will intervene.

*T v M [2013] EWHC 1585

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