Mills v Mills – Is it the end of the meal ticket for life?
Mr & Mrs Mills divorced in 2002 after a 15 year marriage. As part of their financial settlement on divorce, Mrs Mills received a lump sum of £230,000 which was awarded to enable her to purchase a home for her and her son.
In addition to this lump sum, Mr Mills was to continue to pay her £1,100 month. This is called spousal maintenance. When spousal maintenance is paid in a divorce settlement, the parties do not have a clean break. For the period when spousal maintenance is paid, either party can go back to Court to invite the Court to vary the amount of maintenance that is paid, either to ask to receive more money each month or to argue that they should pay less.
By 2015, Mrs Mills had lost her capital in a number of unsuccessful property purchases and was living in rented accommodation having accrued substantial debt. Mr Mills applied back to the Court, seeking to reduce the amount of spousal maintenance he was paying to his ex-wife each month, as he said that his financial circumstances were also less favorable. Mrs Mills made a cross-application seeking an increase in the monthly maintenance on the basis she could no longer meet all her outgoings, falling short by £4,000 per year. Her claim included money towards the cost of rent. Mrs Mills was unsuccessful in her initial application and so appealed to the Court of Appeal who ruled that Mr Mills should increase the amount he paid to his ex-wife to £1,441 per month. Mr Mills then appealed to the Supreme Court.
On 18th July 2018 the Supreme Court unanimously allowed Mr Mills’ appeal concluding that the first Judge was entitled to decline Mrs Mills’ application for additional maintenance. The Court ruled that Mr Mills should not have to pay his ex-wife an additional £4,000 per year to include rental costs simply because of her financial mismanagement of the original capital which she had spent on a series of unwise property purchases. However, the Court ruled that Mr Mills did have to continue to pay the original £1,100 per month, so his application to reduce this was unsuccessful.
There has been some hype in the media suggesting that this case marks the end of an era for the ‘meal ticket for life’. However, this case turns on a narrow issue, being that Mrs Mills’ housing costs and needs had been met by her original capital settlement and a duplication of that award would have been unfair to Mr Mills. It supports the argument that an ex-spouse cannot have a ‘second bite of the cherry’ simply because of their own financial mismanagement. However, it doesn’t open the floodgates for ex-spouses paying maintenance to return their case to Court to reduce or end their payments because the case is so specific on its facts.
Divorce and financial settlement and in particular, the law relating to spousal maintenance is complicated and we would always recommend seeking advice from a specialist family solicitor. At Wolferstans we have a team of experts who can assist and advise you on your case.