The Supreme Court has ruled in the eagerly awaited case of Mills v Mills.
The parties were married in 1987 and separated in 2000. The wife was a self employed qualified beauty therapist. Within the divorce
proceedings the parties entered into a Consent Order, which made provision, among other things, that the jointly owned family home was to be sold and the proceeds to be divided in accordance with an agreed formula. This led to the Wife receiving a lump sum of £230,000 in settlement of her capital claims against her Husband. In relation to her income claims, it made provision for the Husband to pay to her spousal maintenance of £13,200 per annum. The spousal maintenance order would only come to an end on death or the Wife’s remarriage or further order in the interim.
The Wife used her lump sum, in addition to a mortgage that she raised to buy a property for £345,000. The Wife was again working as a beauty therapist but on a part time basis. In 2006 the Wife sold the house. In 2009 she commenced renting a house and lived at various properties until 2015. By that time, she had no savings and a substantial amount of debt; circa £42,000.
Application to Vary / Discharge
The Husband applied to the Court to ultimately discharge the spousal maintenance order. He proposed paying a final one off sum of say £26,000 to end the order or for a fixed period for the payments to continue and finally end and/or for a downwards variation of what he was paying.
The Wife made a cross application for the maintenance to increase to £17,292, part of which was to cover rental payments. The Judge considered the respective applications and the Wife’s capital losses. He decided that no fixed period could be identified as being sufficient for the Wife to adjust without undue hardship. The Court therefore dismissed both applications, thus leaving the same original order in place. Both parties sought permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal allowed the Wife’s appeal. They varied the order for periodical payments upwards from the annual sum of £13,200 to that of £17,292, backdated to the date of the Judge’s judgment. The Husband appealed.
The matter went to the Supreme Court. It needed to consider whether it was entitled to increase the maintenance to pay the Wife’s rent, when the Wife had unwisely used up all her previous capital settlement: she could have been in a mortgage free property. They concluded that they were entitled to consider it, but not obliged to.
So, to conclude, a Court would need to give very good reasons for requiring a spouse to fund payment of the other spouse’s rent in the circumstances identified. A spouse might well have an obligation to make provision for the other; but an obligation to duplicate it in such circumstances was most unlikely.
The Court of Appeal’s order would be set aside and the original Judge’s order would be restored.
Sally Robinson, Partner in our Family Team comments that “Whilst this case concerns very narrow issues, it is in line with the trend of spousal maintenance cases recently, whereby the Court is expecting divorcing spouses to stand on their own two feet. The Court did not expect the husband to be responsible for meeting the shortfall in the Wife’s expenses to cover rental payments, which she was paying as a result of her own finance mismanagement. Spousal maintenance orders for life such as these are becoming more few and far between, with financial independence becoming the expected norm”.
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