Family Law – Maintenance

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Clients often ask how much maintenance should my spouse/partner be paying me.  Each case is different and is often decided on its own facts.  There have been several calls to regularise the position of maintenance to give certainty in terms of the advice that Solicitors/Barristers may give to clients.  A recent case involving a farmer demonstrates this perfectly.

In this recent case the couple were farmers.

They were both in their mid-fifties and got married in 1991.  They had three children aged 24, 20 and 19.  Two of those children were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and they were, therefore, financially dependent on their parents.  Like several other people this couple lived in the family home a farmhouse on 100 acres of land.  The husband was a dairy farmer and he had inherited the farm from his father.  He was the sole earner in the family.  His wife had various jobs at different points, but these were often for very short periods i.e., weeks indeed months.  Throughout the marriage the wife looked after the home and assisted in milking the cows.  She had done various other courses to include Reflexology, Indian Head Massage and jewellery making.

Unfortunately, the marriage broke down in 2014.  The husband moved out of the family home.  A year later the husband gave his wife the sum of €200,000.00 to purchase a new 6-bedroom house.  The husband had to raise the money by borrowing from family members.  The wife brought an application in the District Court in 2015 and the husband was ordered to pay to his wife €1,700.00 maintenance per month i.e., €500.00 for herself and €1,200.00 for the children.  The case ultimately ended up in the High Court.  The High Court Judge heard the case and the Judge formed the view that, in fact, the wife had already received a significant share of the available capital i.e., the €200,000.00.  The Court also noted that the wife was receiving Social Welfare payments.  The Judge also was influenced by the fact that the wife had a good history of skilling and could obtain employment in the future.  The Judge ordered after hearing the case that the husband was to pay the wife the sum of €120,000.00 and gave her €800.00 per month spousal maintenance.  However, that payment would cease after 4 years. Clearly, the husband would have to continue making the payments for the children for so long as they were dependent.  The wife was not happy with the Judge’s decision and appealed.  She was not happy with the amount ordered for maintenance i.e., €800.00 per month and she was not happy that the maintenance had only to be paid for 4 years.  The Appeal Judge referred to the fact that the Court had to be satisfied that proper provision had been made for the spouse.  Courts have a very wide discretion when deciding what maintenance payments should be made.  The Judge stated that the wife was a homemaker and had raised the children and weight should be given to the fact that she had contributed to the successful dairy farm and that she had two disabled children.  The Court also felt that her skilling may not necessarily give her a high level of income.  Ultimately, the Judge decided that the wife should receive €1,600.00 per month maintenance.  This case demonstrates that issues in respect of maintenance and lump sums can be complicated and are decided on a case by case basis.

Of further interest in this particular case the husband was also to pay €10,000.00 towards the legal costs of the wife.  A Judge will always give credit to the spouse who stays at home to look after the children and raises the children.  Some wives may feel that that work is not properly recognised by the Court, but this decision clearly shows that it is.