Tag: family law

Mills gives some clarity on spousal maintenance

Does the recent Supreme Court ruling in Mills v Mills mark the end of the ‘meal ticket for life’?

The QC who successfully persuaded law lords to overturn a previous Court of Appeal decision believes that it has clarified only one aspect of variation of maintenance orders.

Philip Cayford told Merrick Solicitors it would take more cases testing maintenance arrangements for there to be a real end to the so-called meal ticket for life. Currently neither the Supreme Court nor Parliament appear to be in the mood to take a proactive stance on modernisation.

In July, the court unanimously allowed the appeal of Mr Mills. It said the judge at the first court hearing had been entitled to decline to vary an order for the ex-wife’s spousal maintenance. The variation would have required him to pay all her rental costs.

Court of Appeal analysis rejected

The Court of Appeal had backed the ex-wife’s request to increase periodical payments for this purpose.

Mrs Mills received a lump sum of £230,000 in settlement of her capital claims, plus annual spousal maintenance of £13,200 when the couple divorced in 2002, after a 15-year marriage.

After a series of unwise property purchases, the ex-wife was forced to move into rental accommodation and had debts of more than £40,000. She also had a £4,000 shortfall per year between her outgoings and the spousal maintenance paid by her ex-husband.

The Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeal’s case analysis. It ruled the original judge had given a clear reason for refusing the ex-wife’s claim, namely her unwise financial decisions. And that it was consequently unfair to expect the husband to meet these increased needs.

Many in the legal profession have welcomed clarity that a spouse should not be responsible for a former partner’s future housing needs where a capital settlement intended to meet those needs has been mismanaged.

Puts down a marker

Mr Cayford QC, head of chambers at London’s 29 Bedford Row, said: “I think it puts down a marker regarding financial conduct. If the payee gets into trouble – not that they’ve been profligate or wanton – they cannot argue that’s it’s not their fault. You have to take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Philip Cayford QC

“It clears up one issue and it helps Graham Mills. But after that we’re not much clearer on variation applications.”

Mr Mills was given limited grounds to appeal the Court of Appeal decision. At the Supreme Court hearing Mr Cayford was reminded of the need to limit his argument to that one point.

He said: “I do think there were aspects that could have been dealt with. But the Supreme Court determined not to engage in debate, not in a proactive way. Our appeal was a success because the Court of Appeal was plainly wrong and should have considered previous cases (Pearce, North and Yates).

“To see real reform in this area we have to ask, is Parliament in the mood to make a bold announcement?

People want fairness

“99% of online comments in forums backed Graham Mills. Fairness is what people really want in this area.

“They plainly feel it is a nonsense that a spouse should be required to pay not once, but twice, when the ex-partner can be self-sufficient. It is ridiculous to carry on in this way.”

Mr Cayford said in the absence of any intervention by Parliament, it would take more cases to further test and define what society wants from its laws in this area.

On Mills, Mr Cayford said in theory his client was now entitled to go back to the first court for a variation if he had new evidence to present.

Legal commentary since the ruling has said the Mills case has been helpful and fits with a general trend towards limiting indefinite maintenance arrangements.

Clean break preferred result

Amanda Merrick, principal at Merrick Solicitors, said there is a statutory obligation on the court to consider if a clean break can be achieved in every case and that is the preferred result.

Family lawyer Amanda Merrick

Spousal maintenance is payable where there is a need to be met and insufficient capital assets to facilitate financial independence.

On whatever basis an order for spousal maintenance is made, the amount being paid can always be varied. This is either by agreement or following an application to the court. This can result in payments being increased or reduced.  In that way spousal maintenance payments can reflect the changing financial fortunes of both the payer and the recipient.

Miss Merrick said: “The issue was Mrs Mills had already received a capital sum to meet her housing needs. Should a subsequent change in her circumstances make Mr Mills responsible via his ongoing maintenance obligations. Ie. should he have to pay her rent?

“The Supreme Court said not. But would their decision have been the same had there been dependent children of the family?  The court’s first consideration in any financial remedy application is the welfare of any child under the age of 18. It is hard to imagine duplication trumping that.”

Link to judgment https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0040-judgment.pdf

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We thought we’d show you the Magnificent Seven – our brand values here at Merrick Solicitors.
They’re important to us, we work by them every day.


Merrick family law vacancy | Merrick Solicitors


Unless you can relate to them, we’re probably not the firm for you.

If you don’t believe that client care is the central core of what a family lawyer does, then we’re definitely not the firm for you.

We know some may be thinking ‘brand values? Corporate twaddle more like’.

But that’s another thing you should know about us. We don’t do corporate twaddle.

We don’t do across the board legal services either.

Expertise in family law, delivered with a touch of northern realism, that’s what we do.

Contact us today info@merrick-solicitors.com or 0161 838 5410.

#lawforgood could replace what our legal system’s lost

access to justice | Kendal Court

#lawforgood may not be a social media hashtag that’s too familiar to readers just yet – but hopefully that will change.


I first fell in love with the law when I was 13, inspired by a triple whammy of influences.

Leon Uris’ courtroom opus QB VII hit our TV screens around the same time our class read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with its theme of racial injustice. The novel’s hero, Atticus Finch, is a model of integrity for lawyers.

And there was 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda slowly convincing his fellow jurors to confront their own prejudices.

Together these three stories, each concerning a quest for justice, had a profound effect and determined my desire to work in the law 

I qualified as a solicitor in 1989. This was a time when access to justice was part of the fabric of our society never questioned.

Most firms had a legal aid offering and public funding was readily available.

Erosions to legal aid

The erosions to this system since have been gradual but ultimately seismic.

In April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came in to force imposing wholesale changes to the legal aid system for family law.

Now, to obtain advice or representation you must pay on a private basis. This is unless domestic violence is involved or mediation is your preferred method of resolution.

I stopped doing legal aid work in 1999, disillusioned by the ever-increasing bureaucracy. I have instead acted for some clients at a similar rate but on a private basis.

Meanwhile, official figures from 2017 show the proportion of family law cases before the courts in England & Wales where neither party had legal representation was 36%, up by 19% in just four years.

Courts axed

And magistrates and county courts like those in Kendal, Cumbria, were axed last year in a cost-cutting move. This was despite a campaign by the local newspaper – The Westmorland Gazette – arguing against the loss of local justice.

The traditional defender of the law against politics was the Lord Chancellor. Until very recently that role too was political leaving the law with no voice in the Cabinet. It was left to our judges to make a noise the government simply cannot ignore.

Last May the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was forced to condemn the cruel policy of separating older people who need to go into care homes. ‘“People die of broken hearts,” he said.

In August he warned the nation would have blood on its hands if an NHS hospital bed could not be found for a teenage girl at acute risk of taking her own life.

Whether or not you believe Theresa May when she says she does not have a magic money tree what is clear is that any resources available to the government are unlikely to be directed towards family law reform and enabling access to justice.

Thankfully, family lawyers the length and breadth of England and Wales believe they have a responsibility to provide the answers.

Access to justice

Examples as to the truth of this statement can be found on Twitter – #whatabouthenry and #nofaultdivorce – to name but two.

At Merrick we have launched #AccessUs – a case-managed service intended to increase access to justice. Every member of the team is tasked with dedicating time to it.

We’re now interested in talking to colleagues across the profession to see whether more can be achieved by uniting efforts.

‘After all, the only thing that is going to save mankind is if enough people live their lives for something or someone other than themselves.’ – Leon Uris, QB VII

In my world that is #lawforgood


Amanda J Merrick


*A version of this article appeared in The Westmorland Gazette April 5 2018


access to justice | Merrick Solicitors
A judge had no choice but to jail an 83-year-old after he spent years deliberately frustrating the courts, according to a barrister in the divorce case.
The sentencing of millionaire property developer John Hart created media headlines earlier this month. The pensioner was given 14 months for contempt of court after repeatedly refusing to hand over business documents following his long-running divorce case.
Judge Stephen Wildblood QC took the unusual step of handing down a prison sentence after describing Mr Hart as an “exceptionally poor and untruthful witness”.
The judge said he had made every attempt to stop the contempt reaching crisis point but “orders of the court and the rule of law must be observed”.
In June 2015, four years after divorce proceedings began, Mr Hart was ordered to hand over £3.5m of their £9.4m wealth to his wife of 24 years, Karen Hart. As part of that she was also awarded his shares in Drakestown Properties Limited – a company owning two estates of industrial units in the West Midlands.
The shares were transferred, making her the owner of the company. But Mr Hart had “done his utmost to frustrate her ability to run it efficiently and effectively” as he “bitterly resents” that the company had been transferred to his former wife, said the judge.
After delaying the transfer, Hart and his staff “stripped out” management records, leaving behind only two bank statements and a collection of licences and leases.
Mr Hart was ordered on two occasions, in February and July 2016, to provide information to his ex-wife, but failed to co-operate, leaving Mrs Hart with difficulties in her management of the company.

Frustrate the courts

Judge Wildblood said: “This is a man who has received repeated warnings already that he must comply with court orders and he has chosen, repeatedly, not to do so.”
After being sentenced, Mr Hart is now on bail pending appeal on April 18.
Barrister Peter Mitchell has represented Mrs Hart since 2014 and believes the court was left with no alternative action.
Mr Mitchell told Merrick Solicitors: “A jail sentence following civil contempt is rare as is the jailing of an octogenarian. Therefore this makes for a very unusual case. But Mr Hart has been an exceptionally difficult litigant. He has done everything possible to frustrate the courts over many years.”
The judge praised Mr Hart’s ex-wife for being “exceptionally patient” in the proceedings and Mr Mitchell said she took no pleasure from his plight.
He said: “She was upset, she wasn’t looking for her ex-husband to go to jail. But she has had to fight him every step of the way. Three years after finishing litigation he’s still making it impossible for her to move on with her life.”
Barrister Peter Mitchell

Barrister Peter Mitchell

Mr Mitchell said despite the judge’s strong stance he did not believe courts were getting tougher on those who try to block justice.
He said: “There have always been a corpus of litigants who are as difficult as they can be. It is incredibly frustrating for the courts because it is unnecessary.
Mr Mitchell, of London’s 29 Bedford Row Chambers, said: “It is both professionally challenging and extremely interesting, I’ve never been in a case like this before.”

Loss of relationship

The judge, sitting at the High Court in Bristol, said prison would have a “marked effect” on Mr Hart. He added: “Mr Hart has not only lost some of the money which he holds so dear, but he has also experienced the loss of his relationship with his former wife and children.
“From the upbeat, proud and canny businessman that I first saw three years ago, he is now an isolated and sad man seemingly unable to enjoy for his remaining years the millions of pounds that he still owns.”
Commenting on the case, Amanda Merrick, principal at Merrick Solicitors, said the parties involved had the means to fight on until justice was done. That would not be the case for the majority who found themselves in a similar position.
She said: “In most cases there aren’t the assets to justify a protracted fight.  In these circumstances when faced with attempts by one party to avoid the other’s claims, commerciality often dictates defeat before a fair and proper outcome can be achieved.
“These incidences are only going to increase as the decision-making process becomes more stream-lined to accommodate a system that is failing for want of proper funding.”
The judge said the ”unnecessarily protracted litigation” had placed an immense burden on public funds in terms of court time and this would continue as a result of Mr Hart’s incarceration.
Miss Merrick added: “Perhaps this case should now encourage a more robust approach by the courts at a much earlier stage in financial remedy proceedings, particularly when faced with an obviously recalcitrant litigant like Mr Hart.
“Obligations regarding disclosure and compliance with court orders are fundamental to the Family Court’s decision-making process.
“To those parties who think the rules don’t apply to them the message should surely be loud and clear from the outset, not after nearly seven years of litigation.”