Insights and Inspiration
For Richer or Poorer. Is Marriage Forever?
11 February 2020
For richer or poorer, ‘til death do us part. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard it before at a friend’s wedding. But how many people really mean it?
In what some may see as a reflection of the times we live in, where divorce is increasingly common and people are willing to be “married” at first sight on television for our entertainment, it may not come as a surprise to most that it is no longer common for orders to be made for divorcees to maintain their former spouse in perpetuity, although it was only a few generations ago that such orders were regularly made.
However, changes in social norms and expectations of marriage don’t necessarily mean that the rules which govern spousal maintenance have changed since 1975 when the current rules were introduced. The recent case of Blevins & Blevins has thrown this into the spotlight.
Mr and Mrs Blevins married in 1970 and separated in 1996. They had two children, and now have grandchildren. Mr and Mrs Blevins were divorced in 1998. Mr Blevins has since remarried. In 1999 Mr and Mrs Blevins finalised their property settlement, which included orders for Mr Blevins to pay spousal maintenance to Mrs Blevins of $750 per month for 10 years.
In 2009, nearing the end of those payments, Mrs Blevins sought further support from Mr Blevins on the basis that she couldn’t meet her own costs without further spousal maintenance from Mr Blevins. In what Mr Blevins believed would be the end of the matter, and noting Mrs Blevins’ solicitors informed him it would be the final payment, Mr Blevins agreed to pay Mrs Blevins a sum of $275,000 by way of final lump sum spousal maintenance. However, the end was not yet in sight.
In 2019, 23 years after Mr and Mrs Blevins first separated, Mrs Blevins filed an application seeking that Mr Blevins pay her spousal maintenance of $400 per week. Mr Blevins, now 71 years old, did not agree that Mrs Blevins, now 69 years old, should be allowed to ask for more spousal maintenance, as she’d “already had two goes at it”. Unfortunately for Mr Blevins, the Court did not share his view.
The Court clarified that, in circumstances where a spousal maintenance order had previously been validly made in 1999 (that is, the spousal maintenance order or application for spousal maintenance was made within 12 months of the divorce order taking effect), Mrs Blevins did not need the Court’s permission to bring an application for further spousal maintenance.
Whether a further order for spousal maintenance will actually be made by the Court is another matter, and one which the Court confirmed would need to be determined at trial. Watch this space.
What test is to be applied in considering whether to make another Order for spousal maintenance against Mr Blevins? The same test which would have been applied in 1999:
- whether Mrs Blevins is unable to support herself adequately, including by reason of her age or physical or mental incapacity for appropriate gainful employment; and if not
- whether Mr Blevins is reasonably able to support Mrs Blevins.
Will this open up the floodgates to claims for further spousal maintenance? Not likely - many people will have remarried or otherwise not qualify for further spousal maintenance. But it is a timely reminder that, in times when spousal maintenance is often considered to be a short-term obligation, a spouse’s right to maintenance can be enduring and this should be remembered when separated couples are negotiating a financial settlement.
PHILLIP RIDGWAY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE
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