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Can maintenance orders be changed?


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Maintenance orders, where one spouse pays the other one regular payments, are a relatively common element of a divorce settlement. The courts can order maintenance to be paid for a set period of time or for life (although lifetime maintenance orders are less common than they used to be).

Maintenance orders are not set in stone and can be changed in some circumstances. The case of Mills v Mills is a good illustration of what can happen when one spouse applies for a maintenance order to be changed.

Mills v Mills – what happened?

When Mr and Mrs Mills divorced in the early 2000s, Mrs Mills received the majority of the money from the sale of their house. The business, which was the family’s main source of income, stayed with Mr Mills.

Mr Mills paid Mrs Mills £1,100 per month in spousal maintenance on a ‘joint lives’ basis. This meant that he would have to continue paying the maintenance until either one of them died or Mrs Mills (the recipient of the maintenance) married again.

Four years ago, in 2015, Mr Mills went back to court, as he wanted the order to be changed so that the maintenance payments would end on a certain date, not continue for the rest of their lives (or until Mrs Mills remarried). He also wanted the amount he paid to be reduced.

On the other side, Mrs Mills applied for the amount to be increased and for the order to remain on a ‘joint lives’ basis.

The judge found that Mrs Mills “needs” with regards to maintenance, equated to £1,441 per month. However, Mr Mills was ordered to continue to pay the £1,100 for life.

At appeal, the Court of Appeal increased the maintenance payments to £1,441 per month.

The Supreme Court decided against this at the next appeal and the payments went back to £1,100 per month.

maintenance order

Changing maintenance payments

The courts have a very wide discretion with regards to maintenance payments. Every case is different and the outcome will vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

What Mills v Mills does show us, is that maintenance orders can indeed be changed, if the circumstances warrant it. However, applying to the courts for, for example, maintenance payments to be decreased can, in fact, result in the judge deciding that the maintenance payments should actually be increased.

It can work the same the other way around too – applying for an increase in maintenance could result in a decrease. By the same token, asking for the term of maintenance payments to be reduced, could result in the exact opposite.

What all of this highlights, is the importance of seeking expert legal advice from an experienced family solicitor if you intend to apply to have changes made to a maintenance order, so that you are fully aware of what the consequences may be.

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