You have an existing maintenance order against your spouse/ex-spouse. Your financial situation has changed. You would now like to change by increasing amount of money you receive. How do you go about doing this?
Maintenance orders are orders made by the court to mandate the payment of maintenance between the married/divorced couple. Unlike the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance orders are usually not a one-off transaction and can be varied to meet the different parties’ changing financial needs.
Maintenance orders can be made, either during the marriage or after the divorce, to the (ex-)wife, incapacitated (ex-)husband and/or children. This article is focused on spousal maintenance specifically. Varying child maintenance orders will be covered in another article.
Before applying for a variation of the court order, you must first have an existing maintenance order against the person against whom you are seeking this variation. This means that a maintenance order was made (for at least a nominal sum of $1), and that the maintenance order is still valid. Please note that a maintenance order becomes invalid upon the remarriage of the party who receives such maintenance.
How does the court decide whether to allow a variation of maintenance order?
If the maintenance order was made after divorce proceedings, the court is allowed to vary the order if it is proven that there has been:
- a material change in the circumstances of the person receiving maintenance; or
- the order was based on any misrepresentation or mistake of fact.
If the maintenance order was made during the course of the marriage, the court is allowed to vary the order if it is proven that there has been:
- a change in the circumstances of the person receiving maintenance; or
- any other good causes that satisfies the court.
Examples of “material change in circumstances” include a severe medical condition, a significant increase or decrease in salary, or accumulation of new found wealth.
Also, this “material change in circumstances” cannot be self-inflicted. For instance, applications for variation are likely to be denied if you claim your daily expenses have increased significantly because you are now living a lavish lifestyle.
Case study scenarios
Through a few hypothetical situations below, we examine the different requests that can be made for individuals in different situations.
Ben and Diana got a divorce. During the divorce, Diana did not request for maintenance from Ben because she felt that she could support herself because she owns a successful cleaning company. However, her business recently failed and she is thinking of asking for maintenance from Ben.
In this case, Diana cannot make such a request because a variation of maintenance order requires that a maintenance order was initially made.
Anna and Chris got a divorce. Anna was awarded nominal maintenance order of $1 per month. Unfortunately, Anna slipped and is now paralyzed. She is now thinking of asking for more maintenance from Chris.
Anna should make an application to the Family Courts under Section 118 of the Women’s Charter.
Tom and Jane got a divorce. After they got married, Jane quit her job as a lawyer to be with Tom, and so did not have an income. As such, the maintenance order made during their divorce proceedings required Tom to pay Jane a substantial amount of money every month. A few years after the divorce, Jane now works as a lawyer and earns a sizeable income. Tom now wishes to seek for a decrease in the amount of maintenance given to Jane.
Tom should make an application to the Family Courts under Section 118 of the Women’s Charter.
General procedure to apply for variation of maintenance order
Apply to the Family Justice Courts to vary the maintenance order. In your application, you will need to cite the provision under which you are seeking this variation.
- For variation of maintenance orders made during divorce proceedings, it should be made under section 118 of the Women’s Charter.
- For variation of maintenance orders made during the course of marriage, it should be made under section 72 of the Women’s Charter
This application should be made by summons supported by affidavit under the case number of the initial suit. The affidavit should contain reasons why you are seeking a variation of the maintenance order, and also evidence to support this reason (e.g. payslips, list of monthly expenses for the past year etc.) This affidavit must be filed and served on all parties to the maintenance proceeding.
If the other party agrees to the variation, the summons can include the other party’s consent and the other party can sign the summons before a Commissioner for Oaths (or his or her lawyer may sign on his or her behalf). The summons can then be filed and the court will usually grant the order on a “by-consent” basis.
If the other party disagrees with the variation, he/she has 14 days after the service of the affidavit to file an affidavit in answer.
The court will set a hearing date to decide on whether to grant the variation of the maintenance order.
Have a question about varying maintenance orders?
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.