Divorce ruling set to shake up future settlement

A Generic Photo of a cake split in half, illustrating the concept of divorce.  Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
A Generic Photo of a cake split in half, illustrating the concept of divorce. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.
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A landmark case where the Court of Appeal ordered a father to give his former wife extra money 15 years after they divorced, is set to trigger more ‘clean-break’ settlements, a family lawyer says.

The Court of Appeal was able to order surveyor, Graham Mills, 50, to raise payments to his former wife so long after their divorce because a ‘clean-break’ settlement had not been agreed at the time, says head of Family Law at Harrowells Solicitors, York, William Kaye.

Since then ‘clean-break’ divorces, where the financial settlement is agreed forever, have become more common.

The courts are also taking a harder line on maintenance, expecting the lowest earner in the relationship to become financially independent far sooner than before.

In this month’s Court of Appeal hearing, Graham Mills was ordered to support his ex-wife, Maira, whom he divorced in 2002, for life. He was told to increase his monthly payments to her from £1,100 to £1,441, after she had got into debt following ‘unwise’ investments and was “unable to meet her basic needs.”

The couple married in 1988 and separated in 2001. Their grown up son is still in full time education and lives with his mother. At the time of the divorce, Mrs Mills, a former Notting Hill estate agent, received a £230,000 payout - almost all their “liquid capital” - while Mr Mills kept his business.

The appeal was against an application by Mr Mills, whose barrister said he had since re-married and “wanted to move on with his life”, to reduce, or eliminate, his maintenance payments. Mr Mills argued that he should not have to “pick up the tab” so long after the couple divorced.

William Kaye, a qualified collaborative family lawyer who handles divorce settlements throughout the UK, said: ”This case highlights the importance of securing specialist legal advice on the terms of financial settlement at the point of divorce and also on the implications of the settlement on potential future financial obligations.

“When a full  ‘clean-break’ is not effected, and there are ongoing maintenance obligations, the courts retain wide-ranging powers to make further financial orders as Mr Mills has experienced when this case went against him. 

Harrowells Solicitors has three offices in York and others in Pocklington, Easingwold and Thirsk.