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Divorce Money Business

What is Nominal Spouse Maintenance and do I need to worry?

1st June 2023 by Kenneth Clarke

Categories: What's New?

During mediation, couples often prefer a “clean break” in their financial settlement, meaning they are free of any further financial obligations to each other except for child maintenance.

However, a clause may be included in the Memorandum of Understanding (or MOU, the document that summarises the outcome of the mediation and the proposals for settlement) that allows for a nominal spousal maintenance order of 5p or £1 per year if there are young children involved.

This is a safety net for the receiving party if there is a significant and unforeseen change in their financial circumstances down the line. By having a nominal maintenance order, the door would be kept open should the receiving party wish to apply to the Court in future (so long as it is during the term of their nominal maintenance order) for their maintenance payments to be increased to a substantive amount.

Understandably, this can worry the paying party who fears this small amount might turn into something substantial in the future. However, a recent case puts this into a clear perspective.


The wife applied to increase a nominal spousal maintenance order to a substantive one for a short term during a period of unemployment caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. She had lost her £65,000 a year job as a pilot. The husband’s business as sole car trader had also suffered during the pandemic, and he was stretched financially.

Could the financial consequences of lockdown be treated as a change of circumstances justifying the making of a substantive order?

The answer was NO.

There must be a causal link between the choices made during the marriage which have continued to affect the parties needs and how those needs are met. Former spouses are not to be the insurers of subsequent life choices made by the other spouse. The wife’s unemployment had no connection to the marriage.

English family law no longer holds that one spouse is responsible for the other in cases of unforeseeable events. A nominal order was not to be treated as an emergency button that can be called upon in hard times, even in unexpected and exceptional hard times such as Covid 19.

The above scenario demonstrates a nominal order does not give someone an automatic right to adjust the maintenance and the circumstances need to be right to warrant a change to a substantive maintenance order

If you have any other queries regarding spousal maintenance or if you going through a separation  and would like to explore mediation as a route to resolving the dispute, then please contact Gemma Burden on or Kenneth Clarke on

Kenneth Clarke

Senior Associate — Family Mediation

Direct dial: 01202 377993


Kenneth Clarke
  • “Came to Laceys Mediation after my previous solicitor wasn’t living up to expectations. Laceys Mediation was the best decision I ever made, Kenneth Clarke is some awesome mediator, he was so patient and his knowledge was very helpful. Thank you all for your support.”

    Rejoice Aggor-Mensa

  • “I was very happy with the sensitive way the issues around my divorce was handled by Kenneth Clarke. I was also more than satisfied with the way my daughter, Nina, was spoken to and helped her voice to be heard in the decision making process.”

    Brian Charles Hart

  • “What could have potentially been an extremely upsetting and inflammatory scenario, proved to be a surprisingly smooth and conflict free process through Laceys Mediation. With Kenneth’s extensive experience we were able to reach an agreeable outcome without spending our life savings!”

    Julie Morris

  • “Kenneth went that extra mile to explain and reiterate it to other party. outstanding and so very professional.”

    Lee Emm

Kenneth is the elder statesman of our mediation team, with forty years’ experience as a family lawyer, and qualified as a mediator in 1996. Kenneth has been a key member of the Laceys mediation team since 2005, specialising in financial and children cases, with a particular interest and specialisation in high conflict cases.

Kenneth is also qualified to consult with children, a growing part of the mediation process. Always looking to expand the boundaries of mediation practice,  Kenneth brings a degree of gravitas, humour, understanding and empathy when he mediates with clients,  creating a positive environment in which clients work together to resolve their issues quickly and cost-effectively.

Out of office hours, Kenneth’s main passion is writing musical theatre. When he has time Kenneth also enjoys travel, especially cruising.

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