The Thorny Question of Spousal Maintenance
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The recent case of Mills –v- Mills as brought to the forefront again the ongoing problem of “how much maintenance and for how long”.
The Mills divorced in 2002 and Mrs Mills received a capital sum to enable her to purchase a property free from mortgage. She had been suffering from ill-health and it was difficult for her to work and so it was anticipated that she would not take on a mortgage. In the end she did and she then bought and sold various properties ending up in 2009 with no property, a debt of £42,000 and living in rented accommodation. Under the terms of the original Order Mr Mills was paying £1,100 per month under a “joint lives” Order.
There were cross applications before the Court. Mrs Mills had applied to upwardly vary the maintenance Order to enable the shortfall in her income to be met, part of which was the rent she had to pay. Mr Mills asked for the maintenance to be reduced/discharged, his argument being that she had received a capital lump sum to re-house herself in the original settlement and he should not be responsible for meeting her rent because she had mis-managed her finances.
In the end the Supreme Court refused to increase Mrs Mills’ maintenance. However, Mr Mills is still saddled with ongoing maintenance of £1,100 per month and it is likely that both parties would feel somewhat disgruntled with the outcome.
The Court has always been tasked with providing a clean break between couples wherever possible and in the recent past there has been more of a shift towards achieving that clean break and imposing terms on spousal maintenance. This Court decision is likely to be disappointing to those wishing to see the end of lifetime maintenance obligations, usually by a husband to a wife.
This case went through the appeal process both to the Court of appeal and to the Supreme Court and no doubt the legal costs for both Mr and Mrs Mills will be considerable. The future for both is uncertain and it may be that they would consider trying to talk through suggestions and proposals to see if they can find a way forward. Mr Mills may be keen to end the ongoing maintenance payment by paying a lump sum. It is likely that neither of them would relish going back to Court with the ongoing litigation risk that entails.