The Supreme Court has considered an application to vary a periodical payments order (otherwise known as spousal maintenance) in the recent case of Mills v Mills [2018] UKSC 38.

The parties had been married for 13 years and had one child. They had enjoyed a good standard of living during the marriage, largely due to the husband’s financial contribution derived from his role as chairman of a surveying company.

A financial consent order was made around the time of the divorce in 2002, which made provision for the wife’s housing costs by providing her with a lump sum of £230,000. A joint lives spousal maintenance order was also made requiring the husband to pay periodical payments of £1,100 per month to the wife.

It was anticipated that the wife would use the £230,000 to purchase a home for herself and their child mortgage free. However, she in fact obtained a mortgage and purchased a more expensive property. Over the next 7 years, she sold and purchased a number of properties, each time increasing her borrowings, and spending portions of the sale proceeds rather than reinvesting the full amounts, so that the amount of capital she had decreased over time. In 2009 the wife sold her property and started renting. By 2015, she had no capital left and debts of around £42,000. 

In 2014 the wife applied for an increase in periodical payments to cover the shortfall between her existing periodical payments and her needs at that time. The husband made a cross application for a downwards variation of the order for periodical payments on the basis that the wife had been reckless in her spending. The judge declined to vary the spousal maintenance and required the husband to continue paying the sum of £1,100 per month to the wife. Although this was below the wife’s income needs at that time, the judge was of the view that the wife was required to reduce her spending.

The wife appealed and the Court of Appeal upheld her appeal and required the husband to pay an increased amount of maintenance to cover the shortfall between the wife’s income and her expenditure in order to meet all of her basic needs.

The husband appealed to the Supreme Court who have upheld his appeal unanimously. Provision had already been made for the wife’s housing needs in the original settlement in 2002. The wife had made unwise decisions when it came to her capital which had caused her needs to increase by requiring her to pay rent. It was unfair to expect the husband to meet her increased needs in full. The husband was not required to fund the wife’s rent payments in full. It was not fair that, having already made provision for the wife, the husband should be required to duplicate that provision.

The husband is now required to pay maintenance at the original rate of £1,100 for joint lives.

The case highlights that the court has a very wide discretion when determining an application for variation of an order for periodical payments. 

If you require advice regarding divorce, financial settlement or any other family law matter, you can contact one of our specialist family law solicitors on 0161 941 4000 or email us at lawyers@myerson.co.uk. Based in Altrincham, Manchester, Cheshire we are easily accessible for clients who live in the surrounding areas including Warrington, Macclesfield, Hale, Bowdon, Lymm, Knutsford, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Prestbury.