IPFD Claims & “maintenance” needs – a look at current developments

 In Comment

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Developments in the concept of “maintenance”

IPFD and Maintenance claimsThe concept of maintenance lies at the heart of the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act 1975. For anyone other than a spouse, the standard of financial provision is that which is reasonably required for the Applicant’s maintenance. It is of course a concept which has its roots in matrimonial law and developments in that jurisdiction will feed through to IPFDA claims.

In the days before White v White [2000] UK HL 54 wives, generally speaking, did not get half. They got their reasonable needs met. Where the couple was very wealthy, reasonable needs absorbed much less than half, so the skill of the Wife’s legal team was to inflate the concept of “reasonable needs” to include the chauffeur/gardener/string of polo ponies etc. This trend led to the creation of quite incredible lists of monthly outgoings so as to justify ever higher awards. That of course had an impact on what was considered “reasonable” for a lady’s “maintenance”.

In the post White v White era, wives started to get half, whether they needed it or not. There was no requirement to justify the figures in the same way. The impact of this shift has been an increasing stinginess to wives. If she is going to get half of the husband’s hard earned money even though the children have been at boarding school and she has merely drifted from lunch to the odd game of tennis, then there is a sense that the tap should at that point be turned off. The party’s over.

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In SS v NS (Spousal Maintenance) [2014] EWHC 4183 (Fam) Mostyn J set out the principles which should be applied to all maintenance claims. This authority continues the themes laid out in B v S [2012] 2 FLR 502, where the “compensation” based approach was roundly dismissed, and robust guidance was given that maintenance orders were there to meet need and need only.

The judgment is a useful read for two reasons. Firstly it includes a comprehensive and readable bit of policy analysis in relation to the Law Commission report and other jurisdictions, and secondly it sets out at para 46 the following basic principles of general application. These can be summarised thus:

  1. Maintenance orders should only meet needs generated by the marriage
  2. The role of maintenance is to avoid undue hardship, therefore a degree of hardship which is not undue is permissible
  3. The court must terminate maintenance as soon as it can do so justly and reasonably

The basic emphasis is to bring the subject back to basic statutory objective as set out in S.25A(1) and (2), namely that a spousal maintenance order should be terminated as soon as it is just and reasonable, and a term should be considered unless the payee would be unable to adjust without undue hardship to the ending of payments. This runs contrary to the previous thrust of authority and is good news for Estates, less good news for claimants.

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