It’s an interesting time in the field of family law. We recently discussed the case of Owens v Owens in the supreme court, and now we have seen the case of Mills v Mills also in the supreme court. Olivia Bailey, of the family team at Harrison Drury, looks at the latest supreme court judgement.
The supreme court has ruled that a divorced husband is not required to increase maintenance payments to his ex-wife to cover her full rental costs, after she mismanaged her capital funds following separation.
What happened in the case?
The couple divorced in 2002 after 15 years of marriage. The parties agreed that the wife would receive £230,000 from the sale of the family home, so she could buy a new home for herself and their son. The husband kept his business, his pension and £30,000. The husband also agreed to pay the wife maintenance of £1,100pcm on a joint lives basis.
However, by 2015, following a series of property purchases and later the wife moving into rental accommodation, she had debts of £42,000 and a shortfall of £4,092 per year between her basic needs and the existing level of maintenance.
The husband argued that the wife had seriously mismanaged her finances. She had lost the original £230,000 and this was why she was paying for rental accommodation. He argued that he should not be responsible for his former wife’s conduct in financial matters.
The wife disputed these allegations, claiming that in 2002 she had been unable to re-house mortgage free in an area close to their child’s school and health issues had meant that her income had been affected.
The trial judge found that the wife had not be wanton and she was unable to meet her basic needs on her income, without scope for increasing it on her own. Despite this, the judge held that the original order would continue unchanged as he felt it unfair to the husband if he had to make a full contribution to his ex-wife’s rental costs.
Appealing the judgement
However, the court of appeal backed the wife’s request to increase the maintenance payments. On an application to vary maintenance, the court is required to consider all the circumstances, as they are at the time of the variation.
The court agreed that there was a shortfall for her basic needs of £341pcm and that the husband could afford to pay increased maintenance payments while still supporting his new family. The court considered that the trial judge had not given sufficient reasons as to why all of the wife’s basic needs should not be met by the periodical payments from the husband.
Permission to appeal to the supreme court was granted to the husband in August 2017, on the sole ground: whether, provision having already been made for the wife’s housing costs in the original agreement of 2002, the court of appeal were wrong in taking these into account when increasing the wife’s maintenance provision.
The final decision
The supreme court unanimously granted the appeal that the trial judge was entitled to decline to vary the order for maintenance payments to require the husband to meet all the wife’s rental costs.
The court of appeal had incorrectly stated that the trial judge had given no reason for declining to increase the order for maintenance payments. The judge clearly reasoned that the wife’s unwise management of her capital had increased her basic needs by requiring her to pay rent and it was unfair to expect the husband to fully meet her increase needs.
Harrison Drury have a specialist team of family law experts offering advice on issues surrounding divorce and other family law matters. For more information contact Olivia Bailey on 01772 428535.