By Ruth Hawkins, partner at Abingdon legal firm Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

HERE is another about a case which has resulted in two appeals and three court judgments. The judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Mills v Mills given in July 2018 is all about the issue of spousal maintenance.

Mr & Mrs Mills separated in 2000, divorcing two years later. They reached agreement about their financial affairs. Mr Mills took some policies and all the shares in his surveying business. Mrs Mills took most of the capital from the sale of a house and they agreed she should receive spousal maintenance for life, or until further court order.

Afterwards, Mrs Mills bought and rented a number of properties but made bad decisions, which left her £42,000 in debt.

Mr Mills applied to the court to end his spousal maintenance payments, offering a capital sum equal to just over two months’ spousal maintenance payments.

Mrs Mills also applied to the court to increase the amount of the spousal maintenance to meet a shortfall between her income from earnings and the original agreement and what she said she needed to live. The judge accepted that there was a shortfall of about £4,092.

Mrs Mills worked part time but with health concerns and a limited business opportunity, the first judge said that she could not meet the shortfall from increasing her earnings.

Mr Mills worked and earned around £36,500 more than Mrs Mills. The first judge decided that it was not for Mr Mills to make up the shortfall through spousal maintenance.

The court of appeal however increased the spousal maintenance by £4092 per annum.

The Supreme Court making the most recent decision on appeal took the same approach as the first judge and left the spousal maintenance as it was originally agreed.

Both parties may feel hard done by, as neither achieved what they intended. Mr Mills will continue to pay spousal maintenance for their joint lives and at the amount originally agreed.

Mrs Mills must adjust her finances to live on less money than the court said she needed.

Firstly, this is a case about changing payments, not about whether they should be paid or in what amount in the first place.

Secondly, there were particular changes in circumstances that the court took into account that are unlikely to apply to most people. There were multiple unwise financial transactions made by Mrs Mills resulting in her loss of capital and need to rent to house herself and this played out over a number of years.

Various legal commentators have asked whether the case signals the end, or underlies a move by the courts to stop a “meal ticket for life”. No such conclusion can be drawn from this case due to its very specific facts and issues. However, more generally, there does appear to be a shift by the courts towards clean break divorces by limiting the period of time over which spousal maintenance is paid.

Perhaps they could have saved themselves financial and emotional difficulties if they had resolved their differences out of court say with the assistance of a mediator.