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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

February 9, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve often complained about alimony laws, but few cases outdo this one in its power to make the case I’ve been making (Standard, 2/6/17). Put simply, if the case of Graham and Maria Mills is possible under British law, then Dickens’s Mr. Bumble was right, “the law is a ass.” Actually, it’s worse than any I’ve come across. A British court of appeals frankly treats Maria like a child and Graham like an ATM machine.

Graham and Maria were married for 13 years but divorced 15 years ago. When they did, the court awarded Maria all of their liquid assets amounting to £230,000. Graham got none of that. He is a surveyor and she’s a cosmetologist and former real estate agent.

But over the years, Maria blew every shilling of the cash payout she’d received.

Mrs Mills, a former Notting Hill estate agent, bought a home in Weybridge, Surrey, before upgrading to a three-bedroom flat in Wimbledon and then a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian mansion block in Battersea.

However, she admitted she “unwisely invested” the money, plunging her into debt and leaving her “unable to meet her basic needs”. 

In short, she spent beyond her means, taking on mortgages on the various properties she couldn’t pay. So, what’s a woman to do when she’s financially under water? Restrict her standard of living to fit what she earns? Not a chance. She goes to court to demand even more money from the man she divorced 15 years before. Why should he pay the tab for her profligate ways? Ah, that’s a good question. How does it make sense for a perfectly healthy, employable woman to continue living off her ex? Why isn’t divorce the end of a relationship?

Well, the answers appear to be that divorce means only that the couple don’t live together, enjoy marital relations, etc. But for some reason, the man’s obligation to support his ex never goes away. Never. Why that should be remains a mystery.

Mark Everall QC threw out Mrs Mills’s claim, but Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Longmore and Sir Ernest Ryder overturned his ruling, ordering that the monthly payments be raised to £1,441 and that Mr Mills must support his ex-wife for life.

Yes, not only did the court order Graham to support his ex until the day he dies based on a marriage of just 13 years, it actually upped the amount he has to pay every month from £1,100 to £1,441. Presumably, any time Maria decides she needs more, she’ll simply apply to the court and up his payments will go. And, needless to say, the court’s order didn’t exactly discourage her from her spendthrift ways. On the contrary, it says loudly and clearly that financial profligacy is perfectly fine. After all, the man you refuse to have anything to do with will always be required by the courts to be your personal safety net.

Why? Because Graham’s built himself a nice little business in property surveying while Maria not only blew her cash, but is content to work only two days a week.

The message to other women couldn’t be clearer: marry a hard-working man and you’re set for life whether you stay married to him or not. So again, as elsewhere, alimony encourages divorce by women and discourages marriage by men. It also places an ether-soaked rag over the mouth of the work ethic for women. Why bother sullying your hands when the ex is a ready source of cash in perpetuity?

Now, I’m assuming the courts would never rule the same way if the sexes of the exes were reversed. I think that’s a pretty safe bet. My guess is that no man would even dare to return to court to request an increase after behaving the way Maria did. But the well-known anti-male bias of family court judges in the U.K. make it all but a certainty that, were a man so bold to do so, he’d be laughed out of court.

Mr. Mills has remarried and lives in Guildford with his new family. Philip Cayford, QC representing him said, “This is a case where the wife leaves the marriage with all, or almost all the liquid capital, then says she needs maintenance for another 50 years, despite proving herself capable of working to a high standard. 

“It is the husband’s case that he should not be the insurer against the wife’s poor financial decisions. The husband has done all that could be reasonably expected of him in his reasonable wish to move on post-divorce. The same cannot be said of the wife. 

“It is a result of her poor financial decisions that the capital provision has been dissipated. The husband has played no part in the wife’s losses… and yet is expected to pick up the tab.”

And let’s not forget that second family he now has and is trying to support. £331 per month that they were counting on will now not be available to them. Who knows, perhaps they need the money, but they won’t get it. Once again, people who have no relationship whatsoever to Maria Mills and never have had are forced to support her irresponsible habits.

Divorce should be the end of a marriage, not just another stepping stone to a lifetime of financial lassitude. If a woman no longer wants to be married to her husband, fine. But neither spouse should be able to rely on the other post-divorce. If she wants to be a free agent, that’s her decision, but he shouldn’t be required to pay the freight.

When will we get through this period of limbo in which we indignantly demand equal rights for women and shout down any suggestion that they are not strong and capable in all things while at the same time absolving them of the consequences of their own actions by assuring them that the man they loathe will always be required to support them. What are our girls supposed to think, that they’re strong and independent or pathetically weak and helpless? Meanwhile, our boys receive the message loudly and clearly – “you’re a source of cash and little else.” And don’t forget “Never, ever marry.”

Alimony makes no sense and is terrible public policy. With the few, narrowly-tailored exceptions I’ve discussed before, it should be entirely scrapped.

 

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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