Mills v Mills ā€“ Supreme Court ruling against an increase of spousal maintenance

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Mills v Mills ā€“ Supreme Court ruling against an increase of spousal maintenance

The Supreme Court has ruled that a divorced husband should not have to increase maintenance payments to his former wife after she made unwise financial decisions following their divorce.

Mr and Mrs Mills divorced in 2002 after a 15-year marriage.  As part of the financial settlement, Mrs Mills received a payment of £230,000 to purchase a property for herself and their son without a mortgage, as she had been suffering from ill-health which made it difficult for her to work. It was also agreed that Mr Mills would pay Mrs Mills annual periodical payments of £13,200.

Mrs Mills purchased a series of different properties between 2002 and 2009 however she increased the borrowing with each purchase and seemingly spent any sale proceeds. In 2009 she sold her final property and moved in to rented accommodation. By April 2015, Mrs Mills had no capital and had accrued debts of around £42,000. There was also a shortfall of £4,092 per year between her needs and the existing level of the periodical payments from Mr Mills.

Mrs Mills applied to the court for the periodical payments to be increased and Mr Mills applied to the court for the payments to be discharged or decreased. Although the judge at first instance declined to increase periodical payments, the Court of Appeal had permitted an increase in such payments to Mrs Mills. However, the Supreme Court stated the judge at first instance was entitled to decline to provide an increase and the original maintenance has remained in place.

It is worth noting that this is not a wide-reaching case which determined indefinite maintenance orders, and so headlines dubbing this as the end of a ‘meal ticket for life’ are perhaps inappropriate. However, the decision not to increase a pre-existing maintenance order seems to reflect a recent trend in the family courts emphasising financial independence following divorce.