Divorce sounds pretty final doesn't it? But for some couples that is not the end of the story. There have been a few high profile divorce cases recently where the court has ruled that divorce payments must increase, despite the fact that the couples divorced many years earlier and their children are grown up.
The Court of Appeal last week made a ruling that Graham Mills must support his wife for life, increasing the monthly payment he makes to her. The couple divorced 15 years ago and their son is now grown up. Maria Mills received a £230,000 lump sum and monthly maintenance payments of £1,100 from her former husband when they divorced in 2002. She invested the lump sum in property but like many others during the recession, has ended up in a poor financial position. It does not appear that she was reckless, but her investments were described as "unwise" by the court. The court ruled that Mr Mills's monthly maintenance payments to his ex-wife must increase to £1,441 and continue for life.
In another recent divorce case Glenn Briers was ordered to pay his ex-wife Nicola £2.7 million, 12 years after their divorce. When they divorced in 2005, the couple had agreed between themselves that Nicola should receive the family home which was worth £600,000, a £10,000 annual salary and child maintenance for their three children. When they divorced Mr Briers's clothing company was worth £1million. In the intervening years it has grown to a £30million business, with a chain of high street shops and this increased wealth was the basis of the new financial settlement.
The common issue with these two cases was that neither had secured a clean break divorce settlement, which would have closed the door to further financial claims. Issues like the length of time since the divorce, or the fact that children are now grown up do not matter in the eyes of the court. If the married couple earn around the same as each other, it is not such an issue, but where one of them earns significantly more than the other, financial claims can be significant. In cases where one spouse's wealth has increased significantly since the divorce, again, it does not matter that the wealth was accrued after the divorce. It is also important to note that a court order for maintenance payments for life will only end if the spouse receiving the payments remarries.
So, what does this mean for other divorced and divorcing couples?
For people contemplating divorce the most important thing is to take legal advice from an experienced divorce lawyer early to ensure that your interests are protected. The issues faced in both of these cases could have been avoided with a clean break financial settlement.
Even if it seems possible to reach an informal agreement between you, as the Briers case shows, if that decision is not created in a legally binding way, then further financial claims can be made - and there is no time limit on this.
If you are already divorced and are worried that you may be liable for future financial claims, you should take legal advice to establish if a clean break settlement was reached. If it wasn't there may be a possibility to secure one. Alternatively, if you feel like you may be in a position where you think you are entitled to increase your divorce settlement, an experienced lawyer will be able to outline your options.
Divorce can be an incredibly painful time, but there is lots of advice and support available. Stephens Scown has created a guide to divorce which outlines your options, and includes some great practical advice from our clients who have been through the process. You can download it for free here.
Liz Allen is one of the UK's leading divorce lawyers and is head of the family law team at Stephens Scown LLP, which was recently named UK Law Firm of the Year at the British Legal Awards. Liz can be contacted on 01392 210700, firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.stephens-scown.co.uk