Family Law cases to watch 2018: Mills v Mills

Is maintenance a ‘meal ticket for life’?

This year, several high profile cases are due to be heard in either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, and the outcome of each is eagerly anticipated by family lawyers. This week we have been looking at each case and its impact in detail. Today, our final case for review is Mills v Mills.

Is maintenance a ‘meal ticket for life’?

The couple divorced in 2002 and agreed the terms of a financial court order. The order provided for the bulk of the capital to be given to Mrs Mills to allow her to re-house. It was also agreed that Mr Mills would make further maintenance payments to Mrs Mills.

In 2014, Mr Mills applied to discharge the maintenance payments and/or to reduce the amount. Mrs Mills made a cross application to increase the level of the payments on the basis that she was unable to meet her basic outgoings. The judge decided the original order should not be altered. Both parties appealed.

The Court of Appeal determined that the amount of the maintenance payments should be increased as Mrs Mills could not meet her basic needs. Mr Mills argued that she had mismanaged her finances and should earn her own income rather than rely on him. Mr Mills sought permission to appeal.

The Supreme Court will now need to consider whether the Court of Appeal erred when considering Mrs Mills housing costs as part of her overall outgoings, as these had been accounted for within the lump sum payment awarded to her in the original consent order.

This Court of Appeal’s decision was surprising to many legal professionals as the trend seemed to be moving towards parties, where possible, working towards becoming financially independent from one another.

One of the questions arising from this case, on which family lawyers would appreciate clear guidance from the Supreme Court, is  how long after a divorce can one party still seek to rely on the other for financial support? Should a party to a marriage should be faced with the financial consequences of the other person making questionable financial decisions?

A clear indication of the court’s appetite to make long term maintenance orders could herald an increase in applications to discharge or downwardly vary maintenance orders.

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