Supreme court rules Graham Mills will not have to pay long-term maintenance to ex-wife

18 July 2018

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favour of businessman Graham Mills to set aside an order increasing the maintenance payments to his ex-wife, former estate agent Maria Mills, following their divorce 16 years ago in 2002.

In June 2002 Mr and Mrs Mills agreed a financial settlement which should have enabled Mrs Mills to be suitably housed, mortgage free and with an income to meet her needs.  Over the years she made poor decisions about the purchase and sale of property and the re-mortgage of them, such that she subsequently had to move into rented accommodation, the cost of which she could not afford.

She applied to increase her maintenance and Mr Mills cross-applied to have the order dismissed, or to set a time in which that should be done, or alternatively to reduce it.

Mr Mills was initially successful in avoiding the increase sought by his former wife, only for the court of appeal to overturn that and to increase the payments.

His appeal to the supreme court was limited to challenging the increase of maintenance payments to his former wife, on the basis that provision for his former wife's housing had been made in the original capital settlement.  The lower court had already refused permission to appeal the dismissal of the maintenance order either immediately or at some time in the future.

The court agreed with Mr Mills and allowed his appeal, such that the maintenance order was not increased.

Jacqueline Fitzgerald, Partner at Wilsons, the private client law firm, says: “This landmark decision will be greatly encouraging to working spouses who feel they are subsidising their former spouse years later.”

“Currently, it is relatively easy for many ex-spouses to take advantage of the maintenance system. Society now often expects adults to work if they can, so this judgment is a step in the right direction towards reflecting changing social attitudes around gender and work.”

"The obligation to maintain a spouse or former spouse does not mean that the paying party has to act as an insurance policy for the poor financial decisions of the recipient or episodes of bad luck that might visit them."

"The recipient of a financial settlement has to take responsibility for the choices they make.  Mrs Mills was found to have made less than sensible decisions over the years with the capital she received from the divorce."

“Court-ordered maintenance for life is rare nowadays - courts are now required to consider a ‘clean break’ to dismiss financial claims. If the recipient of maintenance is able to work, then surely they should - it seems more equitable than continuing to rely on an ex-spouse over the long term.”

Maintenance payments are made following a divorce process to help meet the needs of the financially weaker party and ensure they have the money needed to maintain their standard of living.

Mrs Mills won a Court of Appeal case in 2017 to increase maintenance from her husband to £1,441 per month, up from £1,100 following a series of ‘unwise’ financial decisions in which she lost money.

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