Is maintenance for life on divorce an outdated concept? The case of Mills v Mills

NGA_Stock_230Divorce cases can sometimes seem to the outsider to lack common sense but the recent case of Mills v Mills might be a case where the decision of the Supreme Court corresponds with the view of the ordinary lay person.

Mr and Mrs Mills were divorced 16 years ago after a 15 year marriage. Mrs Mills received a lifetime maintenance order of £13,200 per year and in addition a £230,000 lump sum. As the maintenance order was for life it opened the door to Mrs Mills seeking to vary it in the future. Sadly for Mrs Mills, by 2015 she had made some poor decisions about her finances, leaving her with debts of £42,000 and an annual shortfall in her outgoings against the maintenance she was receiving. Mrs Mills asked the court to increase her maintenance payments to cover that shortfall albeit that the shortfall was of her own making. Initially the Court of Appeal backed her and ordered that the maintenance payments should be increased. However, after several court hearings and appeals, the Supreme Court decided that the maintenance should stay as it was and that Mr Mills should not have to pay any extra money.

The decision follows current thinking that, following divorce, it is not appropriate for a former spouse to be a long term source of unlimited funds. The Family Court takes the view, as probably most of us would, that in the modern UK we each have a duty as individuals to stand on our own two feet and to take responsibility for our own finances, and that means making appropriate investments or finding appropriate work. Commentators have referred to the ‘meal ticket for life’ approach falling out of favour.

It is felt by many commentators that this is a narrow point and should not be construed too widely but it does show a clear direction of travel in the thinking of the courts in financial cases. Only a full clean break will ensure that further applications such as this cannot be made.

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