Recent case law suggests that the concept of ‘maintenance for life’ is being curtailed, with the courts placing increasing emphasis on the need for the recipient to aim towards financial independence. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Mills v Mills, therefore, comes as a surprise to family lawyers given the recent shift towards ‘a period of adjustment’ in place of a ‘meal ticket for life’.
Mr and Mrs Mills divorced in 2002 after 13 years of marriage. Mrs Mills received a lump sum comprising almost all the couple’s liquid assets, along with spousal maintenance of £1,100 per month.
Mrs Mills fell into debt following a number of poor property investments and made an application to the court for an increase to her maintenance payments. In response, Mr Mills asked the court to terminate the maintenance payments and for a ‘clean break’ order to sever the financial ties between them.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the wife was unable to meet her basic needs at the current level of maintenance and therefore ordered that she should receive increased payments 15 years after the breakdown of the marriage.
Maintenance for life is payable until the death of either party, the remarriage of the recipient or further order of the court. In some instances the court can also order that maintenance should terminate if the recipient cohabits for a period of time.
Maintenance for life can create an element of uncertainty, as either party could find themselves the subject of a variation application in the future due to a change in circumstances. The variation application could seek to reduce, increase or terminate payments.
Payments of spousal maintenance are often one of the most contentious and acrimonious areas when negotiating a divorce settlement, so it is advisable to seek legal advice.