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Hooray for the Clean Break!

View profile for Clare Thornton
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Sitting in Court the other day with a male Client who desperately wanted to end the noose around his neck that was a joint lives maintenance Order, it struck me how problematic such an Order is for both the payer and the payee.

The man in question had been ordered to pay a substantial amount of maintenance to his Wife in 2008, and had been duly paying for all those years. Now he was at the stage where his two children were at University and he was paying them direct, but his former Wife was still receiving her money and working part-time in a school. His life was blighted, not so much by the amounts he was paying, but more by the fact that he felt he could make no financial plans for his own future.

He is a senior board member at the firm where he works and felt disincentivised to try and push himself further than the 12 hour days he was already working, for fear that his salary might increase and thereby reduce his chances of achieving a Clean Break. He felt he could make no plans for his retirement as his pension provision had increased substantially since the original 2008 figures, not because he had paid lots in, simply because he had made wise financial investments, and he feared that would penalise him further.

The pressure he was under to achieve his healthy salary and to continue to be tied to his former Wife from whom he had been divorced for almost six years was immense and brought him to tears on a regular basis.

Then, in Court, hearing how the Wife feared for her own financial future having basically had no incentive herself to become financially independent from her former Husband for much the same reason – fear that if she improved her position by earning a better salary or committing financially to her new partner, that she would be penalised by an application by her former Husband to reduce her maintenance accordingly, I felt more certain than ever that a Clean Break is vital to allow families to separate effectively and with less bitterness.

These Clients were civil but cool towards each other. Their children, although now at University, were clearly in the middle of their parents’ emotions and bitterness created by the lack of Clean Break and therefore inability to truly move on with their lives. Most divorced couples who are not affected by a joint lives maintenance Order are able to quite often have fully moved on six years after separation. The emotional hurt from the split has passed and often new partners are around and former couples are able to focus on their relationships as parents. This is clearly more difficult when you feel beholden to your ex by the payment or receipt of maintenance.

Even a fixed term Order would be less problematic and allow people to plan for an independent financial future. It is the uncertainty of a joint lives Order that makes it so hard to live with.

The Husband in this case ended up paying a large lump sum (more than advised if the truth be known) to buy off the Clean Break. However in his words, he “feels like he has his life back” so it was worth every penny for him. I too feel sure that his former Wife will also reap the benefits of having independence from her former Husband so that she too can move on with her own future and make her own choices without fear of repercussions.

Hooray therefore for the the Clean Break!