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Supreme Court Consider 'Meal Ticket for Life’

On 18 July 2018 in the case of Mills v Mills the court unanimously decided that the husband should not be expected to pay for the wife’s rental costs and so the wife failed in her application to increase an order for periodical payments.

The couple divorced in 2002 after a 15-year marriage. The wife received the bulk of the proceeds of sale of the matrimonial amount amounting to some £230,000 which was in settlement of her capital claims against the husband. The husband agreed to pay annual periodical payments of £13,200. The wife’s settlement should have put her in a position to re-house herself and in fact, she purchased a home with the assistance of a mortgage. Although the court found she was not reckless with regard to financial matters, unfortunately, her capital dwindled through mismanagement and so she found herself in the rental market. Her application to increase the periodical payments order was based, amongst other things, on the fact that she was paying rent and was not able to meet her reasonable needs.

The Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision. Lord Wilson said that her husband may well have an obligation to make a provision for the wife but an obligation to duplicate it in such circumstances is most improbable. In other words, the fact that there had been a capital settlement which provided for housing for the wife made it most improbable that she would obtain an increase in her periodical payments to meet her rent.

The approach of the Supreme Court is in line with recent decisions which have veered away from the expectation that there should be lifelong obligations to support a former spouse. Although the decision is on a fairly narrow issue, the decision reveals the thinking of the highest court and places responsibility on the non-earning spouse to look after their own affairs.

Mike Follis Head of the Family Law & Divorce Department at Davies & Partners commented, "Many people felt that the pendulum had swung too far in favour of there being a lifelong obligation without recourse. I welcome the decision and it reflects the thinking that people should try to take responsibility for their finances post divorce and the payer of the maintenance cannot be expected to be a guarantor for all eventualities."



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