Zenith Family Current Awareness

Making Changes to Maintenance Awards

7 November 2016

Gerald Browne

Ongoing maintenance payments are often contentious, especially when some time has gone by since the original order and the husband or wife (or both) says that things have changed so that more/less should now be paid

In the Court of Appeal case of Morris v Morris [2016] EWCA Civ 812, the husband appealed in 2 respects; firstly against the committal order (a suspended prison sentence for failure to pay maintenance) and, secondly, against the order that only reduced the monthly maintenance from £2,000 per month to £1,750.

The appeal against the committal order was successful. The committal proceedings are a form of criminal proceedings and so the husband should not have been required to make a written statement, should have been informed of his right to silence before he gave oral evidence and should have been informed of his right to legal aid as he was unrepresented.

Because the stakes (a possible prison sentence) are so high, proper compliance with procedure is essential in committal proceedings and this really highlights the need for proper legal advice no matter which side of the argument you are on.

The appeal against the maintenance order failed. In the original proceedings the husband had been ordered to pay monthly maintenance payments of £2,000. In the variation proceedings the husband had sought to vary the monthly maintenance payments of £2,000 per month downwards to £800. The judge fixed the figure at £1,750 and the husband appealed, saying the reduction was too small. The important parts of the appeal judges’ decision are:

  1. An application to vary an earlier maintenance order does not need to start from scratch. The Court has discretion about how to resolve an application to vary maintenance. In some situations a fresh start will be needed but, in other cases, a ‘light touch review’ will do.  
  2. An application is not an appeal against the original order, even if that original decision appeared hard on the husband.  
  3. For the appeal to succeed the judge would need to have strayed outside the ‘bracket of fair awards.’  

Again, solid advice on a variation application will mean that energies can be focussed on the issues that matter.

Current Awareness

By the Family team