This month two disgruntled ex-husbands have hit the headlines
– both fighting in the Court of Appeal to reduce or terminate
the monthly maintenance they are paying to their former wives.
Graham Mills claimed his ex-wife, Maria Mills, had been
financially irresponsible, having apparently spent all the capital
she had received upon their divorce in her unwise attempts to move
up the housing ladder, overreaching herself and ultimately losing
her home. She applied for an increase to her £1,100 per month
maintenance, and Mr Mills sought a reduction. Although the first
judge dismissed both applications, the Court of Appeal (Longmore LJ
and Ryder LJ) has determined that Mrs Mills' maintenance should
be increased to £1,441 per month, a rise of 31%, concluding
there was no other way she could meet her needs and that Mr Mills
could afford to take the hit. Mr Mills was vocal in his protest
about the outcome, saying that the law was unfair and effectively
required him to be an insurer for someone he was married to 15
Another former husband, Goran Mickovski, went to court arguing
that his ex-wife, Kathleen Liddell, was earning too high a salary
as a university lecturer to justify her spousal maintenance award
When Mr Mickovski and Ms Liddell divorced in 2011, she
reportedly received £555,000 out of their combined capital of
£1.2m and a term maintenance order, standing at £723
per month. Rather than terminating the maintenance as Mr Mickovski
wanted, the first judge ordered him to pay a lump sum of
£34,000, capitalising the remaining four years' of
payments. It is Mr Mickovski's appeal against that decision
that came to the Court of Appeal (and we understand Macur LJ and
King LJ have yet to hand down their ruling).
Maintenance variation applications can be fraught with
litigation risk – in some cases the amounts in dispute can be
disproportionate to the legal fees that can mount up, and the
outcome can go either way: the application before the court might
be for a downwards variation or termination, but the judge could
impose a capitalisation of his/her own volition, as Mr Mickovski
experienced when he applied to bring the maintenance to an end.
Judges have to consider whether the financially weaker party can
adjust to financial independence without undue hardship after a
divorce and, if not, how much financial support they will need.
There is no doubt that we have seen a shift away from the lifelong
orders branded 'meal tickets for life' that were once the
norm, and a greater expectation that the financially weaker spouse
should maximise his/her earning capacity. However, although the
judgments in these two Court of Appeal cases have not yet been
released, the message received seems to have been that
'needs' remains the trump card. Each case turns on its
facts, and particularly in a discretionary jurisdiction like ours,
there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
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The well documented case of Heather Ilott and her attempt to overturn her Mother's will appears to have come to an end with the Supreme Court ruling that, whilst she may have be granted some money from her Mother's estate, it is a far smaller sum than the Court of Appeal awarded.
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