Mills v Mills – an end to ‘meal tickets for life’?
As the Supreme Court delivered their judgement in the case of Mills v Mills last week, the national press fiercely debated whether this marked the end of ‘meal ticket for life’ spousal maintenance awards.
When the parties divorced in 2002, Mr and Mrs Mills agreed, by consent, that he would pay her a lump sum payment of £230,000 and pay her £1100 per month for the rest of her life.
Some years later, Mr Mills, (a surveyor, earning £55K per annum) applied to the court to reduce or stop the spousal support to his ex wife when he found out that she had lost her capital and was heavily in debt, after investing “unwisely” in a series properties in a bid to climb the housing ladder.
Mr Mills’ barrister argued that Mrs Mills was capable of working and should look to increase her earning capacity, in order to end her reliance his monthly payments.
Mrs Mills, a beauty therapist, told the court that she was not able to meet her basic income needs and needed more from her ex husband to pay her rent. At first the court decided that her maintenance should continue at the rate of £1100 per month so Mr Mills appealed. When the Court of Appeal heard the case in 2014, it ordered Mr Mills to make up the shortfall of his wife’s rent, despite the clear evidence she had been given a lump sum to satisfy her housing needs when the original order was made. Unhappy with the outcome, Mr Mills appealed to the supreme court on a very discrete point and fortunately common sense prevailed and the court agreed with Mr Mills that his ex wife’s unwise decisions she made in relation to her capital had increased her basic needs by requiring her to pay rent, and that it was unfair to expect Mr Mills to meet these increased need.
Whilst he will no doubt be relieved that the spousal maintenance payments have not been increased, the final outcome is somewhat of a pyrrhic victory for Mr Mills, who will continue to pay his 52 year old ex wife a monthly sum of £1100 for the rest of her life.
It is unlikely that this case tolls the end of spousal maintenance but it certainly suggests that a party won’t get a second bite at the cherry if they make poor financial decisions after receiving a fair financial settlement on divorce. To compensate a financially reckless spouse would arguably give them another opportunity to better their financial circumstances which undermines the principle of fairness.