The Court of Appeal made a ruling this week which has cause to shock even the most experienced of practitioners. Fifteen years later following a divorce and financial order, a wife has been successful at increasing the monthly maintenance payments her former husband pays.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the arguments made on behalf of Mr Mills that the financial circumstances of Mrs Mills arose as a result of her becoming “over-financed” and mismanagement of her original lump sum settlement which amounted to £230,000. Mr Mills had spent the years, following his divorce, successfully building his businesses. Despite some of the growth occurring following the divorce, the Court of Appeal felt it just that further maintenance should be paid to Mrs Mills to meet her needs. Mr and Mrs Mills have considerably different incomes.
At a first glance it is easy to suggest that Mrs Mills is entirely at fault and should bear the brunt of the financial decisions that she has made. Whilst she must retain responsibility for her financial decisions, the disparity in the incomes cannot be ignored and the reasons for this should be considered. Mrs Mills had primary responsibility for the parties’ child and as such was not in a position to increase her earning capacity in the same way as Mr Mills. The court has however arguably taken this position in to account when the original Order was made which is why a maintenance Order was already in place. Is it right that after 15 years a party can approach the Court for further financial assistance from their former spouse when the child has reached the age of maturity and as such that party should now be in a position to meet their own financial needs (particularly where they are already supported by a considerable sum of maintenance from their former spouse).
Whatever your opinion on this type of situation, it is clear that family law needs to adapt and find a solution fair for both parties. In Scotland the law states that maintenance will only be paid to a party for three years. Whilst I do not feel that this, one size fits all approach, is suitable there certainly does need to be a greater transition to independence following parties’ separation and this may mean that maintenance should only be payable for a set period of time, save for very exceptional circumstances.