Recent headlines do not look good for ex-husbands. This month another Court of Appeal decision has ordered that maintenance payments for a wife should be increased 15 years after the divorce.
In the case of Graham and Maria Mills, a financial settlement was ordered at the time of the divorce in 2002. This gave Mrs Mills £1100 per month in spousal periodical payments, also called spousal maintenance. This order was made on a ‘joint lives’ basis which means that it is payable for as long as both parties are still living. In these situations either party can apply to the court at any time to increase or decrease the maintenance payments, this is known as an upwards or downwards variation.
At the time of the divorce the parties’ son was still financially dependent and it was unclear whether Mrs Mills would be able to continue working due to illness. In 2014 Mr Mills applied to the court to end the periodical payments on the basis that he should no longer have to support his ex-wife, especially as their son was now grown up. Mr Mills has remarried and has another child.
At the hearing in the lower Court the Judge ordered the maintenance payments be brought to an end. Unfortunately for Mr Mills the Court of Appeal took a different view. The payments were actually increased. The Court of Appeal awarded Mrs Mills £1441 per month to cover living expenses including rental payments for herself and the parties’ son. Her own financial position as she had lost money in property investments.
Mr Mills’ view was that that the Court was treating him as insurance against his ex-wife’s poor investment decisions. Mrs Mills argument was that she is still financially supporting the parties’ son who remains in full time education. She also pointed out that she did not make this application to Court in the first place.
From a legal perspective this does raise some very interesting questions. The relevant law is section 25A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which states that where a maintenance order is made:
“it shall be the duty of the court to consider whether it would be appropriate…. [that the] …financial obligations of each party towards the other will be terminated as soon after the grant of the decree [of divorce] as the court considers just and reasonable.”
Basically, this means that the court should end financial obligations as soon as it is “just and reasonable” i.e. fair, to do so. The question then is whether it is fair that Mr Mills should have to continue pay after such a length of time. In this case the Court of Appeal thought it was fair.
It is not clear currently whether Mr Mills is going to appeal the Supreme Court. It would certainly help lawyers for more clarification on this complicated area of law. However, Mr Mills would have to pay further significant legal costs to appeal this case and he may not be in a position to do so.