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‘Difficulties remain’ despite landmark divorce court ruling

Five Supreme Court justices have analysed the case between Graham and Maria Mills who parted 16 years ago.

A surveyor whose marriage ended 16 years ago has won a Supreme Court money fight with his ex-wife – but his lawyers say difficulties remain

Five Supreme Court justices analysed the dispute between Graham and Maria Mills at a hearing in London in June.

They ruled in Mr Mills’ favour on Wednesday.

The pair have already staged fights in a family court and in the Court of Appeal.

Their dispute has centred on the size of maintenance payments Mrs Mills gets from Mr Mills.

Supreme Court justices focused on arguments about alimony paid to cover Mrs Mills’ rent.

Maria Mills arrives at the UK Supreme Court (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Judges have heard how the pair, who are in their 50s and have links to the London area, divorced in 2002 and agreed that Mrs Mills should get a lump sum plus monthly payments of £1,100.

Four years ago Mr Mills, a surveyor, returned to a family court and argued that the payments should be reduced.

He said Mrs Mills had lost the lump sum through “gross financial mismanagement” and argued she was in a position to work and increase her earnings. Mrs Mills disagreed.

A family court judge ruled that nothing should change but Court of Appeal judges, who considered the case at a hearing in London in 2017, said Mrs Mills’ payments should rise by £341 to £1,441 a month.

Supreme Court judges have overturned decisions made by Court of Appeal judges.

Mr Mills’ solicitor, Beverley Morris, who is based at Lodders Solicitors, said after the ruling: “The decision has been hailed as a victory for Mr Mills, and whilst it is right to say we have won in the Supreme Court, the problem remains that Mr Mills is still paying a ‘Joint Lives Maintenance Order’ with no end in sight.

“Within the element of maintenance, he is paying towards her rent, when the original award gave her a housing fund. It is therefore difficult to see it as a successful outcome when so many questions remain unanswered.

“The Family Court is tasked with finding a fair solution. There remains judicial uncertainty as to what is fair – the Court of Appeal gave one view which the Supreme Court has reversed.

Graham Mills arriving at the Supreme Court to hear the ruling (John Stillwell/PA)

“At the heart of this case however, is the issue of financial prudence and financial responsibility. Mrs Mills proved an unreliable witness with her evidence being described as ‘not fully satisfactory’ but, despite that, Mr Mills has an ongoing obligation to maintain her.

“So, what now?”

She added: “It is time for us to contemplate this outcome and take time out to consider what would be the right outcome for this family going forward.”

A lawyer representing Mrs Mills said she was “feeling bruised”.

“Maria Mills is disappointed and feeling bruised,” said Joanne Wescott, who is based at Osbornes Law.

“The Supreme Court were asked to determine a very narrow point about whether the court was entitled to increase spousal maintenance payments to meet rent when provision for the wife’s housing needs had already been met in the original order.

“Today’s decision does not bring about the end of spousal maintenance for the wife, unattractively described as a ‘meal ticket for life,’ far from it.

“The original spousal maintenance provision of £1,100 per month from 2002 remains intact. What the Supreme Court decided was that the £341 increase provided for by the Court of Appeal was wrong because it took into account an element of her rent.

“There has been a shift towards achieving a clean break and imposing a term on spousal maintenance, but this does not apply in this case. This shift is closer to the Scottish system which provides maintenance payments for up to three years following a divorce.

She added: “Where Maria and Graham go from here is entirely dependent on them, either of them could ask to capitalise the maintenance payments. This means husband pay to the wife a lump sum to effectively buy a clean break and end monthly payments. 

“Before running off to court to make any application they should certainly try and reach an agreement if possible.”

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