The Law Commission’s paper reviewing spousal maintenance and its duration following a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership gives a scathing critique of current law, but could its proposals result in less work for lawyers, especially from wealthy overseas clients?

The commission calls for ‘fundamental and principled’ reform of current law, which it lambasts as ‘incomplete and uninformative’, giving no guidance to judges on what they should be trying to achieve and no guidance to parties looking to make their own arrangements.

It suggests statutory provisions should be introduced to give judges clear objectives, setting out what should be paid, the reasons for the payment and for how long the payment should last. It also mooted the idea of a formula to calculate the amount and length of financial support.

Apart from the uncertainty created by the present situation, the commission appears also to be critical of the generosity of the system in England and Wales, which provides high levels of maintenance sometimes for life, and which it says may foster dependence.

Suzanne Todd, a partner in the family law team at City firm Withers LLP, says that lawyers and clients would welcome greater certainty in this area of law.

Limiting the duration of maintenance payments, she said would also be welcomed by many divorced people who see the effect of the current regime as a millstone which provides a ‘meal ticket for life’ for their former partner.

Though if the Law Commission’s proposals were translated into law that would bring England and Wales into line with other jurisdictions and ‘perhaps detract from one of the main reasons that London is seen as being the divorce capital of the world'.

So for some lawyers, the clarity and greater stringency offered by the commission may be slightly double-edged.

Catherine Baksi is a reporter on the Gazette

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