Ongoing spouse maintenance

Published: 15/02/2017

In a further case from the Court of Appeal relating to maintenance, the court has ordered that a husband should increase the monthly payment to his ex-wife, 15 years after separation.

In the case of Mills -v- Mills, Mr Mills had applied to the court to extend the length of time her husband paid maintenance for and sought an increase from £1,100 per month. Mr and Mrs Mills were married in 1988 and at the time of separation in 2001 had a young son. The couple’s divorce was finalised in 2002 and Mrs Mills was awarded the bulk of the matrimonial assets, as well as a monthly payment of £1,100 per month. Mr Mills kept his businesses. 

It has been reported that Mrs Mills had previously been employed as an estate agent for a Notting Hill agency but had more recently been working two days a week as a beauty therapist. Mr Mills however had a successful career as a surveyor. On consideration of the facts of the case, it was clear to the Court of Appeal that Mrs Mills had made a series of poor financial decisions which had completely spent all of the assets that she received on the original financial settlement. 

This follows on from the recent decision of Mickovski -v- Mickovski, which we discussed in a previous legal update. In representing Mr Mills, Phillip Cayford QC called for changes to the law to limit spousal maintenance to five years. This echoes the Private Member’s Bill to amend the financial provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, to include a limit to spouse maintenance 
The decision in Mills-v- Mills appears to be at odds with the intention of the Matrimonial Causes Act. 

One of the main considerations of the court is the income and earning capacity of the divorcing couple. However, this is also based on the presumption that an ex-spouse receiving maintenance would be reasonably expected to increase their earning capacity in order to meet their needs.

Historically, the court had been willing to make joint lives maintenance orders. However, in recent years Judges had been moving away from this stance and increasingly using maintenance as a stepping stone to independence for both the husband and the wife. These two recent cases appear to show that the Court of Appeal at least is taking a different view. It remains to be seen whether this will be the prevailing view of the court, in the absence of any change in legislation. 

The family lawyers at Birketts have a range of experience in dealing with both needs and high net worth cases on divorce or separation. We can advise you on the appropriate steps to take when there is a significant difference between couples’ incomes. We can offer a range of options including family mediation and collaborative law. 

For further information or to discuss a family law matter, please contact Lisa Churchill or a member of our team of family solicitors based in Cambridge, Ipswich, Chelmsford or Norwich

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