Today the Supreme Court provided their judgment in the case of Mills v Mills. Mr and Mrs Mills had divorced back in 2002 and at that stage the court made an order for monthly periodical payments (spousal maintenance) from Mr Mills to Mrs Mills.
In 2014 Mr Mills applied to have the payments brought to an end, whilst Mrs Mills sought an order for the monthly amount to be increased, as she no longer had any of her share of the sale proceeds of the family home left and had a limited income to meet her needs.
The Supreme Court had a narrow issue to consider and that was whether Mrs Mills’ maintenance should include a sum for housing in circumstances where she had mismanaged her capital settlement from 2002 which was intended for housing.
The Supreme Court found that the judge who had originally heard the case was entitled to decide not to increase the maintenance to cover Mrs Mill’s rental costs.
I agree with the comments of fellow family lawyer, Tony Roe, in the Law Society Gazette that the narrow nature of the question the court was considering means this judgment is not leading us towards a scenario where spousal maintenance is no more. Mr Mills is still having to make the monthly payments after all. They are just not being increased to cover rental payments.
However, it will be interesting to see whether the general trend in case law towards ex spouses reaching financial independence sooner will continue.
Some may think that this is another nail in the coffin for those benefitting from spousal periodical payments orders, seeking to vary them upwards. Not so. The Supreme Court granted permission to appeal on the single ground whether, provision having already been made for the respondent wife’s housing costs in the capital settlement, the Court of Appeal had been entitled to interfere with the trial judge’s determination not to make full allowance for her need to pay rent in the continuing order for periodical payments.