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Maintenance, eroding capital and a "second bite of the cherry"

Today, the Supreme Court is considering the appeal of a Court of Appeal order to increase the maintenance payments received by a wife, 16 years after the original financial settlement was reached.

In the case of Mills v Mills, the Supreme Court is limited to consider one specific issue: given that provision was already made for the wife's housing costs in the capital settlement agreed between the parties in 2002, was the Court of Appeal wrong to take this into account when increasing the monthly maintenance payable by the husband to the wife?

The facts

Mr and Mrs Mills divorced in 2002. They reached a financial agreement by consent. The provisions included the wife receiving the majority of the family capital (to enable her and the children to rehouse) and monthly maintenance payments from the husband of £1,100 on a joint lives basis.

In 2014, Mr Mills asked the court to discharge or decrease the maintenance payments.  He said that his former wife had lost the capital she received in 2002 because of "gross financial mismanagement" and she was now able to work more to earn a greater income for herself.

Mrs Mills cross-applied to ask that the court increase her maintenance payments, as she was unable to meet her basic needs on the £1,100 a month she was receiving. 

The judge hearing the case at first instance ordered that the payments should continue at the current rate, with no variation (up or down).

Mrs Mills appealed. Her appeal was allowed and the Court of Appeal increased the maintenance to be paid by her former husband to £1,441 a month. 

Mr Mills appealed to the Supreme Court against this decision.


We await the decision of the Supreme Court with baited breath.  We have seen a trend towards encouraging financial independence sooner rather than later, with joint lives payments coming to an end, but this will always be dependent upon needs.  

It will be interested to see whether the court considers that Mrs Mills' needs should still be met by her former husband, despite her own mismanagement of her finances over the past decade or so, and whether her maintenance should be increased to meet these needs.  There are clearly strong arguments either way. 

Undoubtedly the legal costs to pursue this case to the Supreme Court will have been far more than the sums involved in the variation application. It is advisable to weigh up the benefit of pursuing a certain course of action against the costs involved, before making a decision to proceed.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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