Should a former husband still have to pay maintenance fifteen years after the divorce?

Divorce|July 17th 2018

Tomorrow morning, Wednesday 18 July 2018, the Supreme Court will be delivering Judgment following an appeal made by the former Husband, Mr Mills, in relation to his maintenance obligations.

When Mr and Mrs Mills originally divorced in 2002, she received practically all of the liquid capital, £230,000. She was also awarded lifetime maintenance of £1,100 per month.

By 2015, Mrs Mills had none of that capital left. She had invested, unwisely, in a series of properties, and while she did have an income of her own, she was suffering from ill-health and suggested she needed increased maintenance.

She applied to the Court for an increase.

Mr Mills responded by seeking a decrease in that maintenance and for the maintenance to come to an end altogether.

The Judge who first decided the case came to the conclusion that everything ought to remain as it was and therefore both parties were unsuccessful.

Mrs Mills applied to the Court of Appeal and they decided that the maintenance should, in fact, be increased to £1,441 per month, not as much as Mrs Mills had wanted but an increase nonetheless.

Mr Mills has appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that the maintenance ought to come to an end once and for all.

While he accepts that he could afford an increased level of maintenance, he doesn’t see why he should continue to pay maintenance, particularly since he and his former wife have been separated for longer than they were married.

He feels particularly aggrieved because the reason why his former wife was asking for maintenance to be increased and to continue indefinitely was as a direct result of poor decisions which she made after the marriage broke down.

Potentially, the Supreme Court’s decision could be extremely important giving much-needed guidance as to how and when a Court should bring maintenance claims to an end and when former spouses should be expected to be financially independent, which is what the law actually requires Judges to do.

Author: Graham Coy

Graham is based at the firm's London Chancery Lane office. His career as a family law specialist has spanned three decades. He is an experienced advocate, mediator and arbitrator who has worked in all areas of family law.

Comments(5)

  1. Andrew says:

    It will be monstrous if he has to go on paying. Ex-husbands are not insurers, or so are we are told. Perhaps we should go back to the old days when ex-husbands had to hand over their money to (male) trustees for the benefit of their ex-wives who might fall for adventurers or poor investments if left on control of capital . . . Andrew, behave yourself!

  2. Bu says:

    Spousal maintenance arises where one party’s income or assets are insufficient to meet their day to day need, for example if they have a much lower income than the other or have not worked through some or all of the marriage and are unable immediately to become self-sufficient. “Needs” may be generously interpreted. It is with reference to a number of factors including the assets available for distribution (including capital and income) and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
    Spousal maintenance ends if the recipient remarries or if either party dies, so it could be for life so think before you marry !

    A golddiggers dream…

  3. Andrew says:

    The ex-h has won the appeal. No doubt there will be a new thread here in due course!

  4. Andrew says:

    The judge’s order was restored so maintenance goes on at the current rate. The limited nature of the permission to appeal restricted the court; so this is a good result as far as it goes and it goes as far as it can.

    But justice will only be done if the husband (a) gets his costs (b) gets back anything already paid under the order of the Court of Appeal and (c) is allowed to apply the maintenance to reduce those debts until they are paid off – with interest at the judgment rate. Any so-called hardship that might cause to the wife should be disregarded: being made to pay your just debts is not hardship.

  5. Paul says:

    The objective of spousal maintenance orders is to enable a transition to independence, to the extent that it is reasonable bearing in mind the length of the marriage, standard of living, the need to house the parties, and the continued shared responsibilities relating to children.
    This is being addressed by the Matrimonial Needs Working Group which was established following a recommendation by the Law Commission that the law relating to financial needs on divorce be clarified as most women now go to work even if they have children.

    Here is a summary made by a Judge :
    1. A spousal maintenance award is properly made where the evidence shows that choices made during the marriage have generated hard future needs on the part of the claimant. Here the duration of the marriage and the presence of children are pivotal factors.
    2. An award should only be made by reference to needs, save in a most exceptional case where it can be said that the sharing or compensation principle applies.
    3. Where the needs in question are not causally connected to the marriage the award should generally be aimed at alleviating significant hardship.
    4. In every case the court must consider a termination of spousal maintenance with a transition to independence as soon as it is just and reasonable. A term should be considered unless the payee would be unable to adjust without undue hardship to the ending of payments. A degree of (not undue) hardship in making the transition to independence is acceptable.
    5. If the choice between an extendable term and a joint lives order is finely balanced the statutory steer should militate in favour of the former.
    6. The marital standard of living is relevant to the quantum of spousal maintenance but is not decisive. That standard should be carefully weighed against the desired objective of eventual independence.
    7. The essential task of the judge is not merely to examine the individual items in the claimant’s income budget but also to stand back and to look at the global total and to ask if it represents a fair proportion of the respondent’s available income that should go to the support of the claimant.
    8. Where the respondent’s income comprises a base salary and a discretionary bonus the claimant’s award may be equivalently partitioned, with needs of strict necessity being met from the base salary and additional, discretionary, items being met from the bonus on a capped percentage basis.
    9. If the choice between an extendable and a non-extendable term is finely balanced the decision should normally be in favour of the economically weaker party.

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