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Mills v Mills: Supreme Court rules against spousal maintenance increase

Date:18 JUL 2018
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The Supreme Court in Mills v Mills [2018] UKSC 38 have overruled a Court of Appeal decision that Maria Mills was entitled to a variation of the periodical payments of her original divorce settlement with her former husband Graham in order to cover her rental payments.

Following their divorce in 2002, the parties' financial claims were settled by a consent order which, amongst other things, provided Mrs Mills with a capital sum and required Mr Mills to make periodical payments to the wife of £1,199 pcm. In 2014, Mr Mills applied to discharge the periodical payments order or, in the alternative, for a downward adjustment. His case was that the wife (i) had lost the capital she had been awarded in 2002 through gross financial mismanagement and (ii) was in a position to work more in order to increase her earnings. The wife sought an upward variation of the periodical payments on the basis that she was unable to meet her basic needs. The judge held that the order should continue without any variation. The Court of Appeal allowed the wife's appeal.
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Ros Bever, National Head of Family Law at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth said:

‘Today the Supreme Court has decided to overturn the Court of Appeal’s decision that Mr Mills should have to fund rental payments for his former wife.

A husband should not be responsible for meeting the needs of his wife by way on ongoing maintenance where those needs were not connected to the relationship, but were in fact the result of the wife’s financial mismanagement. This judgment provides welcome clarity that a husband will not be responsible for a wife’s needs relating to provision of housing where she has mismanaged her capital settlement which was intended to meet those needs.

Campaigners against what they perceive to be the “meal ticket for life” of indefinite maintenance orders will claim this as a victory. While this is a very narrow point the Supreme Court has been at pains to stress that this is not a commentary on the principles behind maintenance orders generally it does fit with the general trend in this area. It is clear the English courts are increasingly looking to encourage spouses to have financial independence from one another.

An example is Kim Waggott whose £175,000-a-year maintenance order was restricted to a fixed term after she went back to court to increase her annual pay-out. It is understood that case is also going to the Supreme Court on the wife’s appeal and we hope that this will provide an opportunity for the Supreme Court to give more general guidance beyond the specific issue that was addressed in Mills.’

Joanne Wescott, Partner at Osbornes who represented Maria Mills, said:

‘The Supreme Court were asked to determine a very narrow point about whether the court was entitled to increase spousal maintenance payments to meet rent when provision for the wife’s housing needs had already been met in the original order.

Today’s decision does not bring about the end of spousal maintenance for the wife, unattractively described as a “meal ticket for life”, far from it. The original spousal maintenance provision of £1,100 per month from 2002 remains intact. What the Supreme Court decided was that the £341 increase provided for by the Court of Appeal was wrong because it took into account an element of her rent.

There has been a shift towards achieving a clean break and imposing a term on spousal maintenance but this does not apply in this case. This shift is closer to the Scottish system which provides maintenance payments for up to three years following a divorce. 

Where Maria and Graham go from here is entirely dependent on them, either of them could ask to capitalise the maintenance payments. This means husband pay to the wife a lump sum to effectively buy a clean break and end monthly payments. Before running off to court to make any application they should certainly try and reach an agreement if possible.’
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