This is a summary of Mills v Mills Spousal Maintenance – A Meal Ticket for Life? by Katie Langdon

The Supreme Court has handed down judgment in the case of Mills v Mills. In the context of commentary surrounding the case referring to ‘meal tickets for life’, authorities pointing toward term orders and Private Member’s Bills seeking similar, this was an eagerly awaited judgment.

In short, the case involved cross applications from H and W to vary a periodical payments order consented to in 2002 – the H downward or discontinued and the W upward.  Within the same order the W had received over 90% of the matrimonial assets to meet her housing need (mortgage free).  The W’s application to vary was supported by her Needs Budget which included £10,200 of rental costs. The H’s position was that said sum should be excluded from any calculation of her current needs.

The First Instance judge was with the H to a certain extent, but not fully. HHJ Everall QC determined that the W’s then deficit in income as against her Needs Budget was a matter for her to manage without further recourse to even more funds from the H. He,  however, did not alter the periodical payments order in any way. Both applications were dismissed. The net result – H pays 60% of the W’s rental costs.

The Court of Appeal heard only the W’s appeal to vary upwards. Sir Ernest Ryder, President of Tribunals gave the judgment that allowed W’s appeal and awarded her greater periodical payments to meet her deficit. He found the judge at first instance had given no reasons. The Court of Appeal also opined that the H’s appeal was without any prospect of success and his ‘renewed’ application for permission to appeal was not fully heard/determined on that basis.

The Supreme Court, Lord Wilson giving the leading judgment, with which all others agreed, sets out the law as it currently stands. It clearly defined the limits of its decision making from the outset to one single question –

In the context of a payee settling capital claims and receiving a sum to meet housing needs, and then by virtue of choices made thereafter acquires a need for rental monies, is the court entitled not to order the payer to pay those needs.

The Supreme Court finds, with ease, that a court is so entitled, however, is not obliged not to order the payer to pay such sums. The pertinent authorities are referenced within the judgment – Pearce [2003], North [2007] and Yates [2012]. The Court of Appeal decision is referred to as ‘impromptu’ and wrong.

In respect of periodical payments order without term being referred to as ‘meal tickets for life’, Lord Wilson made the following observation: –

‘Although the open-ended basis does not specify a fixed term for the life of the order, the circumstances which it identifies as bringing to an end, in particular the potential for a further order ending it at any time, show how misleading … it is for some non-lawyers to describe the order as a meal ticket for life.’

In short, the conclusion is that in circumstances where provision has been made via capital settlement to meet housing need and there is then a subsequent application which involves payment for housing, ‘a court would need to give very good reasons for requiring a spouse to fund payment of the other spouse’s rent … a spouse may have an obligation to make provision for the other; but an obligation to duplicate it in such circumstances is improbable.’

The Court of Appeal’s order was set aside and HHJ Everall QC’s was restored.

Katie Langdon
Family Group


[Mills v Mills Spousal Maintenance – A Meal Ticket for Life?  Please follow the link to read more:]