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Fools and their money are soon divorced

A recent decision of the English Court of Appeal presents a sharp, but unsurprising, illustration of the perils of marriage for those interested in keeping their property and the fruits of their labours.

Surrey couple’s divorce payments raised after 15 years

The ex-husband of a woman who was awarded £230,000 on her divorce has been told by the Court of Appeal he must support her for life.
Maria Mills, 51, was originally awarded £1,100 a month from 50-year-old Graham Mills after 13 years of marriage.
Appeal Court judges also ruled he should pay her £1,441 per month as she is “unable to meet her basic needs”.

Some 15 years after the marriage ended, with an adult child, Mr Mills now faces a lifetime of supporting his ex-wife. Why is this, might you ask?

Because Mrs Mills unfortunately p*ssed away all her money in unwise property deals, despite the apparently endless ballooning of property prices in London and Southeast England, so she has had her maintenance order reviewed. To her credit, the former estate agent is working.

Mrs Mills works for two days per week as a beauty therapist

Well, that is something, and it belies the old jibe about why estate agents don’t look out the window in the morning, since they would then have nothing to do in the afternoon.

It’s high time for freedom of contract in marriage, let the terms be negotiated and if one side fundamentally breaches the terms, why not allow the injured party to repudiate the contract with no damages to the wrongdoer whatsoever for the other side?

As for the ‘child bomb’, could the law let child support be a matter of parental conscience, or perhaps 50/50 (excluding mitochondria donors)?

If you were seeking to destroy marriage as an institution, would you have done anything differently than to set up laws that allow for judgements such as this? The moral hazard is obvious: Risk the capital, take a part-time job, and come back for more, till death.

Would any person marry someone less wealthy, less industrious, or with fewer prospects under English law?

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43 comments to Fools and their money are soon divorced

  • Laird

    Not to challenge your basic premise, but don’t you have pre-nuptial agreements in England? Are they unenforceable?

  • llamas

    Unless the law has changed recently, no, no pre-nups in England, Wales and NI. Cannot recall Scots law.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Mr Ed

    Laird, pre-nups in England are not legally-binding yet, but they can be a factor in the making of a financial order if the Court is satisfied basically that they are OK, using a variety of factors.

    “The court should give effect to a nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.”

    How many trains can you drive through that?

    However, there are moves to formalise the status of pre-nups through legislation (for England and Wales), whereas I would say ‘Scrap the legislation. Build the contract up from nothing yourselves‘.

  • staghounds

    The pictures with the article are perfect. Although I suspect there is something else going on here.

    There is plenty of liberty of contract. Marriage carries with it the law of divorce. If you don’t trust, or don’t want to submit your life to the binding decisions of others, don’t marry.

  • Grumpy

    If you don’t trust, or don’t want to submit your life to the binding decisions of others, don’t marry.

    Marriage: The one crime for which there is apparently no statute of limitations.

  • bobby b

    Bad divorce lawyering.

    He originally had a lifetime order to pay support to her. From the description, I take it this was the result of a negotiated settlement. However unfair this might seem, he apparently had good reason to agree to it fifteen years ago.

    He went back after fifteen years with a motion to modify support. His basis: he shouldn’t have to keep picking up her tab. Lame. Very lame. He needed to show that the original order had become unfair. He failed to do that.

    Even lamer was that he took this step knowing she’d squandered the assets she’d taken in the divorce, and that he’d be asking the judge to overturn his divorce results right when she could least afford it.

    She obviously countered his motion with one of her own, asking for a cost-of-living increase on his payments. She got her increase.

    Divorce law actually works quite well compared to many other areas of law. This facially-bad result, written up by a reporter ignorant about the law, is unsurprising.

  • If you don’t trust, or don’t want to submit your life to the binding decisions of others, don’t marry.

    Until the courts decide you’re in a common-law marriage.

    [You do have common law over on your side of the pond, right? 😉 ]

  • Mr Ed

    Ted,

    No ‘Common Law’ marriage in England, but there was a sort of concept called ‘handfasting‘ in now-defunct Scots Law.

    The main way your property is stolen in an ummarried situation is by the court finding that there is a trust in equity for the benefit of the thief as well as the owner, where a contribution to the property has been made in some way giving rise to a share in ownership, and perhaps an order for sale or a buy-out might be imposed.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed is correct – the law has been corrupted, in many respects.

    Either the legal revolution that started in the 1960s was designed to destroy “capitalist society” or we are ruled by lunatics who do not know what they are doing.

    Either way the effect is the same.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Notable for its absence is any mention in this post of any asymmetry in the treatment of men and women, under the divorce laws of England and Wales. I trust that is because there is in fact no such asymmetry, not because Mr Ed did not want to be accused of having a vested interest in the issue.

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri,

    The leading English case on pre-nuptials (called ‘ante-nuptials’ in the judgment) involved a French man claiming millions of his German ex-wife but she sought to rely on a German pre-nup and was only partially successful, Radmacher v Granatino. He got around £5,600,000 off his ex-, and some payments for the children. Her worth estimated/guessed/made-up by reporters/speculated whatever at £100M. What appears truly sinister is that the judges took as a starting point a government consultation document as a basis for making up the law!

    It may be that in the vast bulk of cases, the man gets shafted, but every now and then the facts get in the way, and the judges have to apply the law to the case in front of them. Whoever is the wealthier, it is the violence to property rights that concerns me.

  • staghounds

    Almost no common law marriage still in the U. S.

    And anyway, common law marriage required that the alleged spouses hold themselves out to the world at large as married, as well as live together and intend themselves to be married, and are recognized and considered as actually MARRIED- not just living together, or the parents of a child- by their circle of acquaintance. Cases where marriage was forced upon one party by the other who wanted a “divorce” have always been very rare. Usually common law marriage is asserted to legitimize a child or to inherit in an intestate estate, by a child or alleged spouse.

    If you live in a common law marriage jurisdiction, it’s easy to prevent- just never say you are married to the other party and correct him or her if they use the word to others.

  • Cristina

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why a spouse (mostly the husband) have to pay the other after a divorce.
    If the children (if any) are legally allowed to work even part-time and/or the mother is able to work even on minimum wage, the husband should not be forced to pay a dime to his ex-wife.
    Less money after divorce tends to have a salutary effect on the longevity of marriage.

  • staghounds

    We decided as a culture fifty years ago that longevity of marriage wasn’t a goal any more.

  • Jim

    “Divorce law actually works quite well compared to many other areas of law.”

    It works well for women, men not so much. Of course for lawyers it works exceedingly well indeed. Mercedes and Surrey mansions all round!

  • lucklucky

    Once more example how England – or should i say Anglo-Saxon world – is against Freedom.

  • bobby b

    “For the life of me, I cannot understand why a spouse (mostly the husband) have to pay the other after a divorce.”

    A brief look at the rationale as it applies to older, more traditional marriages:

    At the time two people get married, they are deemed (legally) to enter into a partnership where all assets and income are jointly owned. They establish a two-owner corporation, essentially.

    In the typical pre-1990’s marriage, thus usually meant that husband worked on building a career while wife stayed home and had kidlets and ran the home front.

    Having the home front managed for him freed up hubby to work exclusively on career, education, etc. To the extent that a husband developed skills, contacts, a profession, job security, and all that, the wife was deemed to be a joint owner of those assets. The husband’s career development was an asset that was made possible by the marriage, and so is jointly owned.

    In many cases, the wife ended her professional development possibilities when she became the housewife. She ended her job skills development, her professional contact-making, her seniority possibilities – everything that becomes more valuable about and for an employed person over the years.

    So, when they decide to divorce, they are the equal joint owners of a profit-making corporation of sorts. The husband will enjoy more years of higher earnings due to his having been able to concentrate on his job. The wife will have all of the job skills and professional development of a high school girl without the youthful looks.

    It’s almost a contractual claim the wife then makes. She is entitled under the law to her half of the value that husband’s employment built up in husband over the years of the marriage.

    Long ago, I did divorces. (When you open your own office, you do everything.) Believe me, no one gets rich doing divorces, and most lawyers get out of them as soon as they can build a book of other business. I got my first pistol permit back before they were popular on the basis of the threats against my life for representing someone in a divorce. In around 25% of my cases where someone got maintenance (alimony) payments, it was the guy, who made sacrifices during the marriage such that the wife ended up with the higher income.

    It might be spinnable as slavery, but it’s more a contractual payment for services rendered that allowed a spouse to build income potential at the other’s expense. It’s a very libertarian outcome.

  • Fred Z

    Neither of my sons, aged 28 and 29, have much interest in marrying, or even in living with a female.

    “Dad, why to do I want to give some woman all my stuff and more than half my income forever?”

    Good question, innit?

    The left has won this one, so far, and has effectively destroyed the institution of marriage.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    It’s almost a contractual claim the wife then makes. She is entitled under the law to her half of the value that husband’s employment built up in husband over the years of the marriage.

    But if she has broken the contract, why should she as the wrongdoer be rewarded for it?

  • Phil B

    Three words – “Heather Mills McCartney”

    OK – the figures are this:

    Married 11 June 2002
    Separated 17 May 2006
    Final Divorce 12 May 2008

    She was married to Paul for 1436 days to separation, 2162 days to final divorce. She was awarded 24.3 million pounds UK plus 35,000 to pay for a nanny and expenses for the child. Effectively the 24.3 million was solely her reward for being married to Paul for that time.

    This works out as 16,922 pounds PER DAY to the split or 11,239 to the date of the divorce PER DAY. Note she demanded 125 million as a first bite of the cherry. This despite the judge saying that she effectively lied up to her back teeth.

    You can hardly say that she contributed to his career by supporting him as a stay at home wife (as Bobby B argues) or, as he had successfully brought up his children from his first marriage, why she should have been awarded custody of the child. I cannnot see her getting out of her bed at 4 AM to bake bread, cut fresh sandwiches for him to take to work, hand wash his socks etc. Indeed, I can see that servants would be hired to do this work.

    If Paul had hired a Butler, housekeeper and a cook and hired a high class prostitute for his jollies, it would have worked out a Hell of a lot cheaper than that bargain.

    Can anyone justify this amount in any way,shape or form?

    No – the divorce laws are so distorted in favour of the women that any man with enough sense to come in out of the rain would be insane to risk it.

  • bobby b (February 8, 2017 at 1:43 am) gives a good summary of the traditional model (I’ll call it the Victorian model, though much of what I’m saying describes last century as much or more than the end of the one before).

    In England (I’m guessing bobby’s specific experience is US-oriented), the ‘Victorian’ situation prompted courts to use their equitable powers. A husband might be the sole legal owner of the marital home in law, but the courts would use their equitable jurisdiction to regard the wife as joint 50% owner if a divorce or separation were being ruled on. (The rationale given in bobby’s post is as clear as anything I could write about why they viewed it thus.)

    Readers of this blog would hardly need me to note there is a potential problem with the UK legal concept of equity: “Though law without equity be hard and disagreeable, yet excess of equity destroys law and makes every judge his own legislator” – this from Blackstone (and from memory, probably not quoted word-perfect), who then explains why more than a very cautious use of equity is too much equity and destroys law, equity and freedom. One could find a Victorian case that would have people saying, “not enough equity for the wife in that judgement” just as the OP case today suggests the reverse. (‘Hard cases make bad law.’) One view is that there is too much equity (activism?) today and it spills over into cases like this.

    Another view is that a set of legal attitudes derived from Victorian expectations of marital roles have been cherry-pick preserved into a modern legal context that in other ways denies – indeed, despises – those expectations. The old situation expected roles for the parties that were not literally the same. The new sometimes seems to keep a consequence pif that while presenting itself as thinking it almost an offence if the roles are not describes as if the same.

    The experience of bobby at the start of his career (a few decades ago? a few years ago?) did not suggest these culture clashes or these activist excesses were too much the norm where he was. I suspect they may be more so now, but we live in a strange world where de facto sharia law can operate under the protecting noses of the most activist, so who knows what today’s average truly is?

  • Cal Ford

    It is true that there are very good reasons not to get married these days if you are a man, at least a man making good money.

    On the other hand, not getting married runs a considerable risk if you have kids (and you’re a man). Because when you split up, if you’re not married you will have a much harder time getting access to the kids.

  • bobby b

    “Can anyone justify this amount in any way,shape or form?”

    Nope. Rich celebrity divorces, civil suits, criminal trials – never judge the normal workaday world by what you see in them. They resemble nothing any normal person is ever going to see. The story you just told has nothing to do with divorce for real people.

    The apparent bias of divorce courts towards women has more to do with the traditional roles played by men and women in marriages than anything else. I can tell you that, when I represented men in divorces where their wives had or made more money, the wives paid the men. I understand that, with the changing makeup of marriages now, the payment of alimony is gradually evening out between the sexes.

    . . .

    Mr. Ed:

    “But if she has broken the contract, why should she as the wrongdoer be rewarded for it?”

    Because if there is any question in the world that courts are unequipped to answer, it’s “whose fault is this divorce?”

    Much of the US has enacted No-Fault Divorce. Used to be, if one spouse wanted a divorce and the other didn’t, the first had to prove that some breach had occurred – cruelty, infidelity, abandonment – and basically win a divorce like it was a football game.

    This was insane. The amount of money that went to lawyers and investigators was tremendous, and often as not the evidence was fictional. Far too many bad bad marriages couldn’t be broken because of the expense. It was during this time that lawyers were the main beneficiaries of divorce law.

    Now, under no-fault laws, it’s more akin to going to court to dissolve a closely-held corporation. It’s a math question. The issue of, should these people become divorced, became not something for a judge to try to decide based on lousy evidence, but something to be decided by either spouse. Arguably, if it’s bad enough that one spouse wants out, the marriage is over anyway, so this fits reality better than asking the judge to decide.

    I remember one mediation I attended with my client, the other spouse, and the other lawyer, along with a pro mediator. (Most American divorces go through mediation before hitting a judge.) We were in a no-fault state, but each party really really wanted to prove to everyone else how they were the aggrieved party.

    So we all sat through the litany. W wants the divorce because H broke her jaw. Must be H’s fault, right? H broke her jaw upon discovering her with another guy. W’s fault? W had an affair because H stopped any and all affectionate contact years before. H’s fault, then? H lost all urges toward W when W gained about 150 pounds. W gained the weight as H withdrew to work and friends to get out of the house with the three new kidlets crying. I could go on . . .

    It never comes to a nice, clean fault-point. No marriage (okay, very very few) dies because one spouse alone was a shit. Deciphering who was originally at fault, or who was the most at fault, never happens. It never happened before no-fault divorce because, at $300/hour for each party, no trial could ever hope to cover what-all happened along the way to cause the break, and it never happens now in no-fault (thank goodness) because it became clear that all of that had nothing to do with getting people along with their lives.

    Sorry. End of rant. After maybe 100 divorces, you lose the ability to speak about it dispassionately. I hate hate hate divorce lawyering, and I recognize that the system we now have is as good as it’s ever going to get.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . (a few decades ago? a few years ago?) . . . “

    Good point. Need to know that.

    I started doing divorces about 21 years ago, and stopped doing them after about 5 years.

    “Traditional relationships” were still the norm then. Childless couples where both earned $$ were less common, but their divorces were boringly simple. The addition of children was usually what made a sacrifice of future career on someone’s part necessary, and it was generally the woman’s role to do so.

  • Alisa

    I find Bobby’s arguments very convincing – as a divorced person, and as someone who has seen her share of divorced couples. Much more often than not, it is no-one’s fault, and it is both-their fault – both at the same time. The truth of it is that very few people find and marry the person they should have married, not to mention that there are people who are generally better-off not marrying at all.

    Cal Ford:

    On the other hand, not getting married runs a considerable risk if you have kids (and you’re a man). Because when you split up, if you’re not married you will have a much harder time getting access to the kids.

    True, but I guess that in this context, the advice against marriage automatically includes the advice not to have kids (at least not with that specific person, but possibly more generally).

  • Watchman

    Cristina,

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why a spouse (mostly the husband) have to pay the other after a divorce.
    If the children (if any) are legally allowed to work even part-time and/or the mother is able to work even on minimum wage, the husband should not be forced to pay a dime to his ex-wife.
    Less money after divorce tends to have a salutary effect on the longevity of marriage.

    I’ve just agreed with my wife that she will, if financially possible, stop working to look after our child in a couple of years (basically, I need a promotion…). If in ten years we should divorce, she will be seriously disadvantaged (considering we earn about the same now) in financial terms due to entering into a partnership with me where I support her whilst she gives our child the best future. So if I then decide to go and take up with someone half my age (it’s scary when you realise doing that is perfectly legal…) through no fault of hers, you’re saying I have no obligation towards her despite the fact that her situation is partially my fault?

    If you want to attack marriage as an institution, not acknowledging that there is likely to be decisions made together that affect the individual financial wellbeing of both spouses seems a good way to go about it. Rather than offering protection it becomes no different from simply having a relationship and shared assets. And my understanding is that courts will not just issue an award without consideration of the circumstances, and will normally expect a spouse to work (the exceptions seem to be at the high-income end of the range, which is where pre-nuptial agreements do seem a good idea). I would suggest that divorce is actually simply a breakdown of an effective contract (it is an error to assume contracts must be written, or that written contracts can overrule later agreements, as this simply makes the archivist all powerful…), not an attack on freedom to contract as the original piece seems to suggest.

  • Paul Marks

    The British courts have now decided that pension contracts that say that benefits apply to the pensioner and the person they are married to – apply to a “partner” that the person is NOT married to.

    In short (under the “anti discrimination” doctrine) the words of a contract do no not matter.

    The obvious question is what is the point of going to a British court? In England and Wales or Scotland?

    As they are not interested in the traditional principles of the Common Law (indeed they hate and despise the traditional principles of the Common Law) going to a British court, if one is a just person, would appear to be pointless.

    Note to Americans.

    If you follow the advice of the “educated” (the Economist magazine and so on) and allow judges to be picked by “legal experts” (rather than have judges elected or appointed via the political process) then your courts will be totally under the strangle hold of the enemies of the Common Law and the enemies of the Constitution.

    All judges (State and Federal) would be like the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – or worse.

  • Cristina

    […] you’re saying I have no obligation towards her despite the fact that her situation is partially my fault?
    Were I her, you are completely exempted from any material obligation towards me. Especially so if it is involved the indecorous and humiliating situation described by bobby b.
    Of course, as it’s easily guessed, I’m opposed to divorce under any circumstance, pace divorcees.

  • bobby b

    “Were I her, you are completely exempted from any material obligation towards me.”

    I’m curious. Is this because you would never make such a bargain in the first place (i.e., quitting your profession and staying home to raise kids), or because one spouse should have the right to cast off the other spouse and keep all of the benefits from the bargain? Or is there a third choice I’m not seeing?

    I note that in the example used, it’s the well-off husband with a career opting for divorce, so I assume you’re not simply saying that the wife shouldn’t profit from HER decision to divorce.

  • Cristina

    Again, I’m against divorce under any circumstance.
    Actually, I made such a bargain when my firstborn arrived. I quitted my university teaching position and devoted my time to my children and to a new professional career. If my husband had decided “to cast off the other spouse”, he could have done so without any material claim from me for me. It is not a matter of rights, it is a matter of self-respect and independence. Besides, I don’t consider the partner breaching the contract the one keeping all the benefits of the bargain.
    No, the wife should not profit from her decision to divorce. Why should she? Is this not a kind of veiled prostitution?

  • Eric

    In California any child conceived by your wife is legally your responsibility even if you weren’t a party in the conception, and even if you divorce before the baby is born.

  • doug

    the reason to create disincentives for marriage in england and america is to speed up the demographic replacement of the natives. it is the suicide cult of the left’s eternal fantasy.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Either the legal revolution that started in the 1960s was designed to destroy “capitalist society” or we are ruled by lunatics who do not know what they are doing.

    I choose option (c) – which is both.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “no fault divorce” is a cause, effect, and symptom of the death of Western civilization.

  • Cal Ford

    Alisa:
    >True, but I guess that in this context, the advice against marriage automatically includes the advice not to have kids (at least not with that specific person, but possibly more generally).

    It often does, yes, and that is very sad. (I think Doug is partly right, some elements of the left are happy to see independently-minded middle class men not procreating, although I think some elements of the left are not happy to see such men not buckling under to the new feminist order.)

  • Rob

    Nice to see the courts enforcing one of the most traditional aspects of marriage – “till death do us part”, even if they have parted. Who says the judiciary is a Progressive enclave these days?

  • Roué le Jour

    My thanks to bobby b for his insights. I found them most interesting.

  • Phil B

    But, of course 4.685 Million isn’t enough and the woman wants more from a husband that handed over 10 million on top of a 5 million house … and the judge agreed.

    OK – a high value divorce but again, with nearly 5 million in the bank, she can hardly claim that she is starving to death. However, it is symptomatic of the entire system that the woman is massively advantaged. It is only the high profile cases that are reported like that – how many lesser value settlements are not reported and therefore do not give an indication of the injustice of the system?

  • Mr Ed

    Phil B,

    That’s a classic. I like this:

    The woman, who cannot currently be named for legal reasons, told divorce judge Mrs Justice Roberts she felt ‘frightened’ when she left the exclusive West London borough, adding: ‘I feel insecure when I venture out of Kensington’.

    She also requested £25,000-a-year for holidays and weekends away and £10,000-a-year for therapy.

  • staghounds

    I’d be willing to be married to the odious McCartney for 8 years in exchange for L23 million, cash up front and tax free, but that’s pretty close to my final offer.

    Miss Mills may not have my high disgust threshold, so I can’t say she was overpaid.

  • Alisa

    It is very sad indeed, Cal Ford. I suspect that many on the hard left are motivated by pure nihilism.

  • Mr Ed

    I would wish put in a good word for the former Lady McCartney. She did cause me to laugh out loud and long whilst walking through a London mainline station in the rush hour. I picked up a copy of the Metro (a freesheet morning paper) and on the front page was a call from her for everyone to do their bit to counter global warming by:

    Drinking rats milk.

    Mills, who announced her conversion to veganism in May, said: ‘It’s mad that we are having cows’ milk. Even cows don’t drink it after [the age of] one year, but we continue for ever.’
    She told her Hyde Park audience of campaigners, journalists and bemused tourists: ‘There are fields and fields of grain just miles from starving children in Africa being shipped to Europe to feed our livestock.
    ‘There are 25 alternative milks available in health shops and supermarkets. Why do we not drink rats’, cats’ or dogs’ milk?’

  • Mr Ed

    Breitbart London reports on a former High Court Judge musing as to whether Brexit will strengthen the nuclear family and lead to less reliance on the State.