(Considering the recent Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Mills v Mills)

There are straightforward divorces, just as there are straightforward marriages. And then, there are not so straightforward marriages and divorces. It seems that the lengthier marriages carry more complications with them upon divorce, especially when one of the spouses has a much higher income (usually the husband) and/or has considerable wealth in comparison to the other spouse (usually the wife).

There are some genuine cases where it is appropriate for a spouse to receive periodical payments (maintenance) following divorce to ensure fairness and to ensure that they are appropriately housed and able to continue to look after the children of the family. There can be circumstances whereby a spouse’s future income will be affected, hence the need for the other spouse to continue to maintain their ex post-divorce.

Section 23 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 sets out the types of periodical payments orders (also known as orders for spousal maintenance) the Court can award to the less advantaged party and in some cases those orders can be awarded for life, as was the case in Mills v Mills when it first came before the Family Court.

In this case, the court originally ordered the husband to pay the wife a lump sum which would enable her to re-house herself appropriately. In addition, an order for spousal maintenance was made at the rate of £1100 per month and this was to continue for life or until the wife remarried. Anyone would have thought that this would be sufficient for the wife to become financially independent after divorce.

However, not quite so unfortunately. Indeed, after the case was originally concluded, the wife made a number of what have been regarded as unwise financial decisions, which then led her to apply to the court for the original maintenance Order to be varied and increased to support her in securing herself appropriate accommodation following on from her unwise investments.

The husband made an application for the maintenance order to actually be discharged and one cannot help but think that it appears most unfair that husband has to continue to pay such spousal maintenance for life, when he has a new family to support, having remarried and when the ex-wife must surely have reached independence since the divorce.

That is not the case and the Supreme Court was quite clear that although it would be unjust to increase the amount of spousal maintenance, it considered it fair that the order should remain in force and so it seems that this decision is not an end to the famous ‘meal ticket for life’. One cannot help but sympathise with this husband who feels that there is ‘no end in sight’.

This is why it is so important for divorcing parties (husbands and wives alike) to seek specialist family law advice to resolve the financial issues that will always be linked to divorce and to try to achieve a ‘clean break’ wherever possible, to prevent future claims being made again and again and to achieve fairness, as that was always what the law intended.

It is all very well that parties may be amicable now and not wish to enter into discussions regarding the financial aspects of the divorce, especially when they are trying to keep costs down, but sometimes, those costs are not only justified but wholly beneficial if it means preventing further claims being made in the future, thereby saving money in the long run.


Caption: Sophia Mellor

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