Maintenance applications by a dependent spouse

Important Guidance by Court of Appeal in relation to maintenance applications by a dependent spouse

In a decision issued in June 2021, the Court of Appeal made important pronouncements in relation to the factors to be taken into account by a court when faced with a maintenance application by a dependent spouse.

In this case of NO V PQ the Court of Appeal found that it had always been agreed between the parties that the husband (who ran a farm originally owned by his parents and subsequently transferred to him) would be the principal earner. The wife had reared the children and had also contributed in various respects to certain enterprises and had taken steps to retrain herself during the marriage.

The High Court granted her maintenance for a period of 4 years and directed that private health insurance be paid for that period, but on appeal the Court of Appeal determined that the maintenance be significantly increased and that it be paid until the wife became entitled to any pension payments.

The husband had argued and indeed this had been upheld by the High Court that the wife was capable of earning an income into the future and also that she was entitled to certain social welfare entitlements in the form of a respite grant and domiciliary allowance and that she would be entitled to a pension in due course.

The Court of Appeal quoted the statement made by Denham J in the seminal case of T v T where it stated that the Court had to be satisfied with a high degree of confidence and certitude that by the contemplated date the dependent spouse “will be in a position to obtain adequate employment at a specific level of remuneration of a permanent and stable nature”

The Court of Appeal found that that the High Court had overestimated the wife’s ability to earn an income particularly in circumstances where she had not worked in any consistent basis throughout the marriage where she lived in a small rural town where her ability to work was significantly limited and where she was in her 50s.

The Court of Appeal made similar statements in relation to the wife’s entitlement to a social welfare entitlement and to a pension. The conclusion to be drawn from this decision is that if a party is making a claim in relation to a dependent’s spouse’s ability to either earn an income or be entitled to certain benefits now or into the future that cogent and clear and definite evidence needs to be provided to the Court to support such an argument.

The Court of Appeal was saying in the absence of such cogent and clear evidence such factors should not be taken into account by the Court in making a decision in relation to maintenance.

For any other information on any family law matter please do not hesitate to contact Brendan Dillon, Sally-Ann McCoy or Erika Coughlan on 01 296 0666.