A husband has been told he must support his ex-wife for life because she is “unable to meet her basic needs”.
Maria Mills received a £230,000 lump sum plus £1,100 monthly maintenance payments when she split from her husband of 13 years, Graham Mills, in 2002. However, the former estate agent lost all her capital and fell heavily into debt after investing unwisely in a series of upmarket London properties.
Now, Mr Mills’ payments to Mrs Mills are set to increase to £1,441 per month.
Speaking at London’s Appeal Court Mr Mills claimed that he “should not be the insurer against the wife’s poor financial decisions” and forced to “pick up the tab” 15 years’ after their separation. His barrister called for changes in the law to limit maintenance and encourage independence after divorce.
Mrs Mills had increased her mortgage liabilities but failed to offset them with enough profit from the sale of her properties. She then found herself living in rented accommodation, working two days a week as a beauty therapist.
She admitted to having over-financed herself; however, she had ongoing health issues and was a single parent struggling to make ends meet.
The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act imposed a formal duty upon the court to consider a clean break between the parties.
The problem facing the court is whether periodical payments should be for life, for a fixed term or whether they should be a thing at all.
Since the last recession, many families are unable to reach a financial settlement because after the assets have been split equally there is insufficient capital remaining to allow for a clean break. As a result of this there has been upsurge in applications for spousal maintenance.
Where the payee is the primary carer of the children and unable to work, a joint lives order is still inevitable and the court will be reluctant to order a clean break.
Despite the apparent generosity shown to payees in recent court cases in the news, statistics still show that less than half of orders provide for periodical payments. It follows that away from court centres and The Court of Appeal, clean breaks must be achieved either by consent or by the courts imposing them.
For Graham and Maria Mills, as Graham did not have a clean break he has become financially responsible for his ex-wife until her death.
It is important to seek expert legal advice from a matrimonial lawyer when reaching a financial settlement.
To speak with the experts at Slater and Gordon about finances after a separation call freephone 0800 049 2738 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help.
Lorraine Harvey is a senior family law solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.