(Telegraph) Court orders man to increase payments to wife who lost bulk of divorce settlement with ‘poor financial decisions’
Telegraph Reporters 6 FEBRUARY 2017 • 2:32PM
A wife who lost the bulk of her divorce settlement by making “poor financial decisions” has been awarded larger monthly payments from her ex-husband despite calls from his lawyer for maintenance limits to reflect “social change”.
Former estate agent, Maria Mills, 51, received a £230,000 lump sum in 2002, plus £1,100 monthly personal maintenance payments, when she split from her “reliable and truthful” 50-year-old husband, Graham Mills, after 13 years of marriage.
But she lost it all and fell heavily into debt, after investing “unwisely” in a series of ever more “upmarket” London properties in a bid to climb the housing ladder, a court heard.
Judges at London’s Appeal Court have now ordered that Mrs Mills’ monthly payments to be increased to £1,441 and told her ex-husband he must support her for life, because she is “unable to meet her basic needs”.
Mr Mills earlier claimed that he “should not be the insurer against the wife’s poor financial decisions” and forced to “pick up the tab” 15 years after they split.
His barrister, Philip Cayford QC, called for changes in the law to limit maintenance and encourage “independence” after divorce.
Lord Justice Longmore and Sir Ernest Ryder heard that the couple, who have a grown-up son, married in 1988, separated in 2001 and divorced in 2002, after reaching an agreement on how their wealth should be split.
Mr Mills, a surveyor, agreed to give his ex-wife, who formerly worked for a Notting Hill estate agent, £1,100 a month in personal maintenance, as well as almost all their “liquid capital” when they split, while he kept his businesses.
Later, Mrs Mills “unwisely invested in a series of properties, each time moving upmarket” from a house in Weybridge, Surrey, to a smart three-bedroom flat in Wimbledon, to a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian mansion block in Battersea.
Each time she “over-financed,” increasing her mortgage liabilities, but failed to offset them with enough profit from the sale of the properties.
After she sold the Battersea flat in 2009, she was “without any of the capital” from her marriage, and is now living in a rented home, back where she started in Weybridge. She now works two days a week as a beauty therapist, the court heard.
The pair both went before a family judge last year, with the wife asking for more maintenance, because she could not manage financially, and the husband seeking a clean break.
Judge Mark Everall QC threw out both their challenges, but they then each instructed QCs to renew their battle before the Court of Appeal.
Mr Cayford told the judges Mr Mills, who lives in Guildford, has remarried, has a new family and is desperate to “move on” with his life.
“This is a case where the wife leaves the marriage with all, or almost all the liquid capital, then says she needs maintenance for another 50 years, despite proving herself capable of working to a high standard,” he said.
He called for changes to the law to limit spouses to “five years’ maximum maintenance,” telling the court: “There is a social change going on.”
He said a decision in favour of the wife went against “the tide towards seeking independence,” telling the judges: “You can order some finality today.
“It is the husband’s case that he should not be the insurer against the wife’s poor financial decisions, taken over the course of the 15 years that have passed since the original ancillary relief order… the time is long overdue for the wife to terminate her financial dependency on the husband.”
He told the judges: “The consent order made in 2002 was agreed on the basis that the wife received the vast bulk of the available cash, in order that she could buy herself a house and would not have to pay rent thereafter.
“Since 2002, the wife’s management of her finances has been so poor that she appears to have exhausted her entire capital, and seeks to continue and now increase the periodical payments element of the order.
“The husband has done all that could be reasonably expected of him in his reasonable wish to move on post-divorce.
“The same cannot be said of the wife. It is a result of her poor financial decisions that the capital provision has been dissipated. The husband has played no part in the wife’s losses… and yet is expected effectively to pick up the tab.
“The wife has already had the lion’s share of the capital and the husband’s maintenance obligation has already extended beyond the length of the marriage.
“It is wrong in principle and in law that the wife should continue to depend, and indeed seek to increase, her dependence on the husband,” added the QC.
But Frank Feehan QC, for the wife, pointed out that – while Judge Everall had found she was “not a good businesswoman” who “did not manage her finances wisely” and “took on too high borrowings” – he had not found that she was “profligate or wanton in her approach to her finances”.
The judge had also accepted that her finances and ability to work had been “hindered” by health problems she has experienced over the last decade.
Mr Feehan told the court: “Here was a woman, left (in 2002) with responsibility for a young child, without enough money to buy a house which was good enough in her view. It was reasonable for her to get a mortgage.”
He admitted she “over-financed”, but told the judges: “She had health issues throughout and a child to bring up.” He defended her “credit card debts, run up over many years as a single parent having health difficulties”.
“She has not been found to be wanton in having credit card debts in order to have a living wage for her and her son,” he added.
Asking for an increase in maintenance, he said Mrs Mills is currently “unable to meet her basic needs”.
Sir Ernest, giving the court’s ruling, said Mr Mills had been regarded as “reliable, truthful and frank” by Judge Everall, who had been “less impressed with the wife”.
“He has remarried and supports his new wife’s daughter as well as his own son. He also now has another child with his new wife,” he added.
Of Mrs Mills he said: “The 2002 order vested in her the majority, if not all, of the liquid capital of the marriage.
“She had unwisely invested in a series of properties, each time moving upmarket, with the consequence that she is now without any of the capital she was given in 2002.
“She is not a good businesswoman. The wife now says the judge left her unable to meet her basic needs.”
Judge Everall had calculated the wife’s “needs” at £1,441 a month, but had gone on to order that her monthly maintenance should not be increased from £1,100. But Sir Ernest said that “shortfall” was unexplained.
“The judge made an error of principle. The order should have been that the husband pay maintenance in the sum of £1,441 a month until further order of the court,” he said. “The husband has and had the ability to make the maintenance payments asked for.”
No value was put on Mr Mills’s business interests, but the court was told he had previously been able to draw dividends from them of up to £200,000 a year.