The verdict is out on the Mills V Mills case. Graham Coy shares his thoughts…

Divorce|Family Law|July 18th 2018

Today, the Supreme Court decided, unanimously, that a former husband was not obliged to pay increased maintenance to meet his former wife’s housing needs as they had been provided for many years before.

Whilst accepting that this was the only issue which the Supreme Court decided that it could or should deal with, a major opportunity has been lost to make the law much clearer as to when a former husband’s obligation to pay maintenance should come to an end, and that is very disappointing.

Graham Mills and his wife divorced in 2002, having been married for about 15 years.

As part of the divorce, Mrs Mills received £230,000, practically all of the couple’s liquid capital, which she would use to buy, outright, a home for herself and their son, and she would not need a mortgage.

Mr Mills was also ordered to pay maintenance of £13,200 per annum indefinitely.

Unfortunately, Mrs Mills made a number of unwise financial decisions so that by April 2015, she had no capital left at all and debts of £42,000. Her health has deteriorated as well.

She applied to the Court seeking an upwards variation in the level of maintenance.

Mr Mills asked the Court to either bring the maintenance to an end altogether or, at the very least, reduce what he was having to pay.

When the Court first heard the applications, the Judge decided to leave things as they were.

Mrs Mills appealed to the Court of Appeal and they increased her maintenance to £17,292 per annum.

Mr Mills appealed to the Supreme Court and he was given permission to appeal on one very limited ground, namely whether a husband in these circumstances should have to pay additional maintenance to meet his former wife’s housing needs when they had already been provided for many years ago (i.e. the payment of £230,000).

The Supreme Court had no doubt that Mr Mills should not have to pay anything more.

The principle reason why Mrs Mills was not able to meet all of her expenses was a direct result of unwise financial decisions that she had made after the divorce so that she was now struggling to pay her rent.

However, the opportunity that has been missed in this case is to give clear guidance as to when a maintenance obligation should come to an end.

As it stands, Mr Mills will have to pay maintenance until the earliest of the following: –

• His death
• Mrs Mills’ death
• Mrs Mills’ remarriage
• The Court bringing to an end, Mr Mills’ obligation to pay maintenance.

As long ago as 1984, the law was changed fundamentally.

From then on, Judges are obliged to consider if and when a maintenance obligation should be brought to an end. The rationale of this change, 34 years ago, was to encourage and promote financial independence if possible.

Inevitably, there will be some cases where this is simply impossible, for example, due to age or ill-health.

In many cases, it should be possible for there to be a termination of financial ties between couples when they divorce, either immediately or over a period of time.

In practice, Judges up and down the country take different views and all too often 1984 reforms are ignored.

Graham Coy
18 July 2018

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(7)

  1. 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.

  2. Andy says:

    Bravo.. Justice has been done..
    Firstly the financial needs of Ms Mills as a big money case then now in todays demands on finances not so big but how on earth can you re apply for increase when you made bad financial decisions that were of your own nature.. That’s called Tuff Luck… Why the hell should Mr Mills pay for some one else’s financial incompetence…

    In todays law the lower case financial or term maintenance payments are for the top rich sector but for Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs has not so much of a impact but this still the case even at lower level financial agreements but this ruling gives clear shout to the GOLDIGGER who think they can at whim ask for more….
    For once justice has been done…

  3. spinner says:

    Given the court has said he shouldn’t be responsible for her current housing costs and she is using part of the £1100 to pay for rent he should start a new application to reduce what he is paying by the amount of rent she is paying. It’s obscene he’s paying anything after all this time but one step at a time.

  4. JamesB says:

    Years ago Edward Longshanks re-established the right of primae noctis.

    So, the establishment have been telling the rest of us what is in our best interests for quite a while now, with varying degrees of success.

    Recently their legitimacy is coming under scruitany. Who are these people? Why and how do they hold the power? Why do they say and do the things they do and for who’s benefit.

    The idea is that a representative legitimate government writes the law. This is bad law yet the government doesn’t deal with it.

    Like many people on the other side of the family law argument (people like John Bolsh), I am increasingly annoyed that they are spending all of their time arguing about Brexit rather than that.

  5. JamesB says:

    What is true is that in many feudal societies, peasants were required to get permission from their lord to marry. This requirement was called the culagium.

  6. JamesB says:

    Less than fifty years ago interracial marriage was forbidden in the USA. 1967.

  7. Paul says:

    Across the UK more women are working than ever before. The economic empowerment of women across the UK is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years. It is remarkable because of the extent of the change: millions of people who were once dependent on men have taken control of their own economic fates. Social arrangements have not caught up with economic changes. Many children have paid a price for the rise of divorces demanded by women. Shifting of their role models from stay-at-home mothers to successful professional women has increased. The UK’s growing army of single mothers have little choice but to work but have benefitted from spouse maintenance on top of their salaries. British children brought up in two-parent families where only one parent works are almost three times more likely to be poor than children with two parents at work. The UK will be struggling to cope with the social consequences of women’s economic empowerment for many years to come as spouse maintenance is something that was good in the past when women did not work. As times as changes, this maintenance needs to be looked into again.

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