A Surrey businessman who divorced his former wife some 15 years ago has this week been ordered to increase his monthly maintenance payments and told to continue to support his former wife for life.

Mr and Ms Mills separated in 2001 and divorced in 2002. Upon their separation they reached a financial agreement that Mr Mills would make periodical payments to his former wife of £1,100 per month. Ms Mills kept all of the couples’ ‘liquid assets’ (including a lump sum amounting to approximately £210,000) whilst Mr Mills retained his full interest in his businesses. This agreement was drawn up into a Consent Order.

Following their divorce, Ms Mills made ‘unwise’ investment decisions which resulted in her spiralling into debt and being required to sell her home and move into rented accommodation with the former couple’s son.

Mr and Ms Mills appeared before a family judge last year. Ms Mills requested higher maintenance payments in order to meet her needs. Whereas, Mr Mills, who has now remarried, requested that the Judge order a clean break ending the monthly maintenance payments in their entirety. Both challenges were thrown out of the Court leading to the parties renewing their battles before the Court of Appeal.

Frank Freehan, QC, for Ms Mills, highlighted to the Court of Appeal that, although Ms Mills had not been a good businesswoman, she had not been irresponsible or reckless with her approach to her finances. Her finances and ability to work had also been negatively affected by health problems suffered since the parties’ separation.

Decision

The Court of Appeal found that the previous judge had been wrong to calculate the basic needs of Ms Mills to be £1,411 per month but, at the same time, dismiss her claim to increase her monthly maintenance payments from £1,100.

The Court of Appeal also noted that Mr Mills was more than able to financially meet the increase to £1,411.

The Court of Appeal therefore ordered that the maintenance payments be increased to £1,411 per month and that Mr Mills continue to support his former wife for life or until further order.

How does the Court make their decisions in financial proceedings connected to divorce?

The Court has a wide discretion in dealing with a couple’s finances on divorce. There is no standard formula to calculating appropriate financial provision in proceedings such as those of Mr and Ms Mills.

Instead the Court must consider “all the circumstances of the case” and are required to review the factors listed in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, first and foremost, considering the welfare of any Children. The Section 25 factors include, for example, the age of the parties, the length of the marriage and the parties’ income and earning capacity.

The Court must also have regard to the needs of the parties and will ensure that, where there are enough resources, each party’s needs are adequately met.

Although it may seem that the decision of the Court of Appeal was surprising in this matter, the Court has used their discretion to focus their decision on the needs of the parties. Ms Mills’ basic needs are met by the increase to £1,411 per month maintenance payments whilst Mr Mills is able to make the increased payment without this having a negative effect upon his own needs.

The fact that Mrs Mill was permitted to go for a “second bite of the cherry” was because Mr Mill did not obtain a Clean break financial settlement.

If you have separated or are considering separating from your husband or wife and would like further information or guidance as to how to deal with your finances upon divorce then please contact Alex Mansfield, a Family Solicitor based in Thursfields’ Halesowen office, on 0121 227 3869 or at amansfield@thursfields.co.uk.

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