If you’re separating or divorcing that usually means running two households and, of course, it costs more to pay for two homes.  That often means that at least one partner will face the scary situation of being unable to support themselves – and maybe the family’s children too.

Ideally, a couple should come to an agreement between themselves as to a reasonable level of maintenance for the children.  If that is not possible, in most cases maintenance for children is administered by the Child Maintenance Service (formerly the Child Support Agency).

It’s wise to try to come to an agreement as there are no fees payable if child maintenance is agreed between the parents.  However, if the CMS  become involved, there is a one-off fee for their assessment of £20.  Also, if getting payment directly proves difficult and the CMS have to collect the maintenance, both parties pay a percentage of the amount to the CMS.  The receiving parent pays 4%, but the paying parent pays a whopping 20%!

That isn’t the end of the fees as there are charges for enforcement too if the paying party defaults.

The calculations for child maintenance are based on the gross income of the paying parent and there is a sliding scale of percentages depending on the payer’s income level, the number of nights the payer has the children, the number of children the receiving parent is looking after and the number of other children the paying parent has in his/her household.

So that’s the children provided for – but what about the partner who may have only worked part-time or been a stay-at-home Mum or Dad?  With a small income maintaining a household can seem impossible.

Sometimes the court will order spousal maintenance when the non or lower-earning partner is unable to support themselves from their income alone.  However, this is often for a limited period, as the court likes a former partner to achieve independence, if at all possible, as quickly as they can.

Unlike child maintenance, spousal maintenance isn’t calculated on any formula, but rather on the receiving party’s need and the paying party’s ability to meet that need.  The court will take all the circumstances into account, including other support that may be available in the form of tax credits or benefits.

There are different kinds of spousal maintenance orders, some are short-term, for example, to enable someone to retrain and get back to work, while other orders are longer term.  In some situations a Joint Lives Order may be made, which runs for the rest of the parties’ joint lives (i.e. whilst they are both still alive).  It is possible to insure maintenance payments in the event of the death of the supporting partner and this is something that you may wish to consider if the maintenance you receive is something you cannot afford to lose.

The big question for partners who are embarking on the painful process of divorce is ‘what happens in the interim period?’  Everyone has to eat and has bills to pay.  If they are no longer sharing a home, the expenses are escalating as soon as the second household is established.  Sometimes, in urgent situations it is possible to apply for ‘maintenance pending suit’, which is spousal maintenance paid while a divorce is pending (i.e. after the issue of a petition for divorce or judicial separation, but before final decree).  It may be possible to claim this when a spouse has stopped paying overheads, leaving the other unable to make ends meet.  If you are in this situation it’s wise to talk to your lawyer as quickly as possible.

Overall the financial issues that a separation or divorce creates can frequently be overcome.  There isn’t a magic purse that will pay everyone’s expenses, but there is often a way through to a reasonable level of income for everyone.  Keep the lines of communication open and be willing to discuss finances reasonably and everyone will survive the parting of the ways with fewer scars.