Maintenance – A meal ticket for life? The case of Mills v Mills

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The Supreme Court heard the case of Mills v Mills (2017) EWCA Civ129, which concerns Mr Mills appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision to increase his ex-wife’s spousal maintenance payments. Often dubbed as ‘a meal ticket for life’, joint lives maintenance orders are undoubtedly controversial, this case raises important issues about the extent to which one spouse should be obliged to continue to support the other financially, long after the marriage has ended.




Following their divorce in 2002, Mr and Mrs Mills financial claims were settled by a consent order which, amongst other things, provided for Mrs Mills to receive the majority of the capital so that she could be rehoused.  The order also required Mr Mills to pay maintenance to Mrs Mills in the sum of £1,100 per month on a ‘joint lives’ basis (ie. until he or Mrs Mills die or Mrs Mills remarriage).


Mrs Mills subsequently made some poor financial decisions, including purchasing a series of properties with large mortgages. She eventually had to move to rented accommodation.  She applied to the Court to increase the level of maintenance Mr Mills was paying her.


Meanwhile, Mr Mills had a new wife and family to support, and was still having to pay maintenance to Mrs Mills in accordance with the terms of the 2002 Consent Order.  Therefore, in 2014, Mr Mills made an application to reduce the amount of maintenance payable to Mrs Mills and for his obligations in that respect to come to an end after a fixed period rather than continue on a joint lives basis.


Mrs Mills argued that the circumstances in which the 2002 Order was made had changed, namely:


  • Mrs Mills had lost the capital she was awarded in 2002 through her own gross financial mismanagement; and
  • Mrs Mills was now in a position to work (or work more) in order to increase her earnings and should not therefore rely on him to financially support her.


Mrs Mills made a cross application for an increase to the spousal maintenance payments on the basis that she was unable to meet her basic needs.


The Judge at first instance determined that Mrs Mills monthly income needs were £2,982 and her net monthly income was £1,541.  There was therefore a shortfall of £1,441 per month.  The Judge decided that the 2002 order should continue without any variation.


Mrs Mills appealed to the Court of Appeal.


Mrs Mills’ appeal and the Court of Appeal decision


Mrs Mills’ appeal was based on the argument that she could not increase her earnings or minimise her spending any further.  Mr Mills cross appealed.


The Court of Appeal allowed Mrs Mills’ appeal, finding her needs were real and they could be met by Mr Mills.  The maintenance was therefore increased to £1,441 per month and remained payable on a joint lives basis.


Mr Mills appealed to the Supreme Court


Mr Mills sought permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision from the Supreme Court, which granted him permission to appeal in August 2017 on a single count: whether, provision having already been made for Mrs Mills housing costs in the capital settlement in the original 2002 order, the Court of Appeal was wrong in taking these into account when increasing her maintenance payments under the joint spousal maintenance provision contained in the 2002 order.


Judgement of the Supreme Court


The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal decision that Mr Mills should have to fund rental payments for Mrs Mills.


The Supreme Court stated that Mr Mills should not be responsible for meeting the needs of Mrs Mills by way of ongoing maintenance where those needs were not connected to the relationship, but were in fact the result of the Mrs Mills financial mismanagement. This judgement provides welcome clarity that a husband will not be responsible for a wife’s needs relating to provision of housing where she has mismanaged her capital settlement, which was intended to meet those needs.


Campaigners against what they perceive to be the ‘a meal ticket for life’  of indefinite maintenance orders will claim this as a victory.  While this is a very narrow point – the Supreme Court has been at pains to stress that this is not a commentary on the principles behind maintenance orders generally – it does not fit with the general trend in this area.  It is clear the English Courts are increasingly looking to encourage spouses to have financial independence from one another.


Many observers however feel that the decision made by the Supreme Court 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 a 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 of spousal maintenance, but this does not apply in this case.  The case highlights that only a total clean break, in cases where it is possible, will prevent protracted litigation and future application for variations of periodical payments.


Contact Askews Legal LLP now for specialist advice from one of our Family Solicitors in Coventry.


Askews Legal LLP – Solicitors Coventry.