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Maintenance ‘North / South divide' encourages rush to London

Increase in 'fixed term' arrangements awarded by courts outside the capital

Provincial opposition to the idea of providing women with indefinite spousal maintenance is fuelling an increase in women seeking to have their divorces heard in London, according to Manchester firm JMW Solicitors.

JMW has claimed that while many cases dealt with in London continued to involve continuing maintenance, there had been an increase in 'fixed term' arrangements awarded by courts outside the capital.

Catherine Jones, a Partner in the Family department at JMW, said that whilst a growing number of courts appeared willing to terminate periodical payments after women established 'permanent' new relationships, many were setting a time limit on maintenance regardless of their finding partners.

She described the situation as amounting to "a North-South divide" in how maintenance was awarded.

"In the past, there was almost an expectation that wives would receive maintenance on top of any share of joint marital assets until they remarried.

"However, what we've seen in the last 18 months or so is something of a sea change with more fixed term maintenance orders being struck when divorce settlements are originally made.

"Even those courts who are not putting such time-limited arrangements in place appear more willing to entertain arguments about ending maintenance when the divorced women have been in what they regard as 'permanent cohabitation' - an unmarried partnership lasting more than 12 months.

"Previously, we had seen variations between maintenance provision between courts in the cities and those in the provinces. Now, it seems to be that differences between London and the rest of the country are stark, and that is spurring more wives to try and have their divorces heard in the capital if at all they can."

Ms Jones' comments are based on analysis of more than 900 cases handled by JMW over the past three years and the additional experiences of family law colleagues from across the country.

They follow the publication of statistics by the Ministry of Justice showing a drop in the number of maintenance awards. The figures revealed that the proportion of successful orders made either with or without being contested had fallen by more than 11 per cent from 2013 to last year.

Ms Jones said that the contrast between experiences of women divorcing in and outside London appeared to enhance that city's global reputation as being relatively 'wife-friendly'.

She suggested that prompted more of a contest between spouses to determine where divorces would be heard, adding that the process only increased the delay, cost and tension involved in bringing their marriages to a close.

She added:

"Divorce is a horrible experience for the vast majority of individuals and drawing that out only makes for the likelihood of greater friction between husbands and wives.

"However, whereas the men concerned object to the notion of supporting their ex-wives indefinitely, the women are eager to secure the best possible terms from their point of view and will do what they can to achieve them."