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Attempts to vary spousal maintenance fail at the Supreme Court

In a pronouncement described by some as ending the “meal ticket for life”, the Supreme Court has ruled that a divorced husband should not have to increase his spousal maintenance payments to his former wife, after she mismanaged her finances post-divorce settlement, rejecting the wife’s application to vary the previously agreed arrangement.

The Supreme Court heard that after the parties’ 2002 divorce, following a 15-year marriage, Mrs Mills received £230,000 in settlement of her capital claims against her husband. It was also agreed that Mr Mills would then pay his ex-wife a further sum of £13,200 per year. However, by April 2015, following a series of botched property purchases, Mrs Mills had been forced to begin living in rented accommodation, with debts of around £42,000. Mrs Mills further claimed that there was a shortfall each year between her financial needs and the £13,200 maintenance payments she received of just over £4,000.Mrs Mills returned the matter to court, as she sought to vary the maintenance arrangements, seeking to have Mr Mills pay her rental accommodation costs on top of the prescribed maintenance arrangements.

The Supreme Court unanimously supported Mr Mills’ appeal, concluding that the judge at first instance had been entitled to decline to vary an order for periodical payments. The Court of Appeal had previously backed the wife’s request to increase the periodical payments. Giving the lead judgment in the Supreme Court decision, Lord Wilson said that the original judge’s order to retain existing periodical payments should be restored.

Commenting on the decision, partner Pui Uro commented, “The decision is not entirely surprising to those dealing with similar cases on a day to day basis. The barometer of the courts has been moving toward a position whereby the parties take greater responsibility for their individual finances after the decree absolute is pronounced. Of course, this is not to say that this decision is the death knell of spousal maintenance, far from it – but rather, a further sharp reminder for parties in dispute over matrimonial finances that they must consider the appropriateness of clean break orders and make concerted efforts to avoid future spousal maintenance disputes.”

Serving  London, Bedford and the surrounding northern villages, our lawyers can help you with all your divorce, matrimonial finance disputes, together with all other family law and separation matters.  If you want to speak to one of our specialist solicitors about your matrimonial finances or available orders, contact us on 01234 889777 or 0207 177 9777 and speak with us today.

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