A court order providing for payment of sums for the maintenance of a spouse or a child of the family. Strictly speaking the term now applies only to maintenance agreements incorporated into a court order; orders in the magistrates' courts or High Court on the ground of failure to maintain and orders in the divorce courts for maintenance are now called financial provision orders. Power to order payment by direct debit or standing order was introduced by the Maintenance Enforcement Act 1991.
Spouses may try to evade their financial obligations to each other or their children by emigrating. In such cases the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Act 1978 and the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1972 grant powers to obtain maintenance from emigrant spouses in certain designated (“convention”) countries. For these purposes maintenance orders include any order providing for periodical payments to a person whom the payer is liable to maintain, including children of unmarried parents. The Child Support Act 1991 has greatly curtailed the power of the court to make, vary, or revise maintenance orders; application solely for child support maintenance must now usually be made to the Child Support Agency rather than the court.