Spousal maintenance – where are we now?
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. Family law continues at a fast pace, and the times, they are a changing!
Spousal maintenance – that’s where one spouse pays the other maintenance (not to be confused with child maintenance) is an area where there has been a massive change of opinion with the Judges.
It has always been the case that when a Court deals with financial cases, they have to consider whether there should be a clean break (no maintenance). However, there have been many exceptions to this.
These exceptions are diminishing. The Courts are taking a lot more robust approach than they used to when looking at claims for spousal maintenance.
In the case of Mr and Mrs Mills, the couple had been married for 15 years, separating in 2000 and divorcing in 2002. The financial settlement at the time was the sale of the former family home, and the wife was to receive £230,000 from it to purchase a new home. She also received the proceeds of an endowment policy and Mr Mills was to pay £13,250 a year as spousal maintenance.
Mrs Mills decided to buy a house for £345,000 and took out a mortgage of £125,000, rather than buying a house mortgage free. Over a period of time, the wife remortgaged the home and by the time the property sold, her mortgage was £218,000. Mrs Mills then bought and sold a series of properties, but each time increased her mortgage. In 2009, Mrs Mills was living in rented property and had £42,000 worth of debt.
Mr Mills applied to the Court to discharge, or reduce the amount of money he was paying to the wife. Mrs Mills applied to increase her maintenance to include meeting her rent. Initially, the Court felt that whilst Mrs Mills hadn’t been “wanton”, they did not think she had been prudent. Whilst there was a shortfall between her income and outgoings of around £4,000, they didn’t adjust the order either way.
The case went to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal increased the award for maintenance by just over £4,000.
Mr Mills appealed to the Supreme Court, asking whether he should have to fund monthly rental payments, when Mrs Mills had already received a lump sum to meet her housing needs. The Supreme Court agreed with the first judge, save that they were of the opinion that the trial judge had provided good reasoning not to increase the payments.
It seems clear that recipients of joint life spousal maintenance orders can no longer count on the Court to increase maintenance payments in every eventuality. The recipient will be expected to take reasonable and prudent steps to ensure that their needs are met from any award that they receive, and they are unlikely to have a second attempt.
So, the message is, if in receipt of spousal maintenance and a capital award, be sensible and prudent, otherwise the Court isn’t going to support an increase in payments.