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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.  

June 8, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Back in February, I wrote this about the case of Graham Mills, a British man who runs a small-but-thriving surveying company. He and his wife Maria had been married just 13 years when they divorced 15 years ago. At the time, Mills gave his ex £230,000 in cash which amounted to all of his liquid assets. He also agreed to pay her £1,100 per month alimony.

But Maria blew the money. She bought at least two houses she couldn’t afford, couldn’t make the payments and now has nothing of the money paid her by Graham. To most people, that would be a problem, but far from an insurmountable one. Most people would simply tighten their belts, resolve to be smarter about their spending habits and perhaps up their hours worked per week.

But Maria isn’t “most people.” She manages to get out of bed and go to work just twice per week. How does she make ends meet? By resort to her ex, that’s how. Graham went to court to try to get his alimony payments stopped and Maria countered by saying they should be increased. What was her basis for that claim? Her own profligacy. She had the gall to tell the court that, because she’d misspent the money he’d given her, he should pay more.

The trial court punted that claim, but Maria appealed and the higher court agreed that, due solely to her own spendthrift ways and refusal to do an honest week’s work, Graham should pay her £331 more every month.

Amazing but true. The case represents everything that’s wrong with the law on alimony that I’ve been inveighing against for years. Alimony law discourages marriage by men and encourages divorce by women. It treats women like children or incompetents who are unable to fend for themselves. It damages the financial well-being of men’s second families. It makes a mockery of the very concept of divorce as an opportunity to start over. It ignores the reality of present-day life in which women can and do support themselves. It offers no answer to the question “Why should a man have to support a woman to whom he’s not married?”

Now Graham Mills is determined to fight back. He wants the appellate court’s order overturned. He cites many of the same arguments I’ve made in doing so.

Graham Mills is on a mission. Spurred on by the bitter experience of his own divorce battle, the 50 year-old surveyor has become a one-man army - determined to go all the way to the Supreme Court to change Britain’s divorce laws.

With an unflinching honesty that has garnered him thousands of supporters, Mills says that our courts are “outmoded and dangerous” - turning men into “cash machines for life” and setting feminism back 20 years by making women “dependent on men”. ..

I simply cannot lie down and accept this ruling. Too much is at stake. Forget about me; this is for every person who’s been shafted in the divorce courts. 

“There are thousands of people supporting my view and they all feel it is morally wrong and unfair.”

What gave him the strength to continue, were the countless messages he received, both from other men going through hostile divorces and by women appalled at the verdict.

“I’ve had emails from guys concerned this is setting their own case back. One had given his ex £500,000 and she is now coming back to him for more money, having spent it. There has also been considerable support from women, who are affronted that this has put feminism back 20 years.”…

“How can it be right that I am still tied to this woman? She is perfectly capable of supporting herself, and there should be a desire for people to move towards independence. But this ruling does completely the opposite: this makes her dependent.

But much of his ire is reserved for the ‘archaic’ courts. 

“The system is broken. It encourages women to manipulate it to get more money.

“Judges are completely out of touch with modern society. They don’t treat women as being strong and capable of independence. A decision like this says that ex husbands have to look after women for the rest of their lives – as if women are damsels in distress and need to be protected.

“My ruling will have a fundamental effect on all future divorce cases. This is much bigger than me; it is about changing case law. I feel I have to carry on for the sake of others.”

Good for him. Indeed, the ruling, coming as it does from a court of appeals, has the impact of precedent. That means it can be used to decide other cases and become a part of British common law. It’s dangerous in all the ways Graham Mills describes. It is indeed “much bigger” than his case alone.

The problem is that he can’t afford the £50,000 it’ll require in attorney fees and court costs to appeal the case to a higher court. So he’s crowdfunding the effort here.

His case seems to have been the impetus for a much-needed attempt at statutory reform.

Mr Mills’s plight has attracted some influential allies, including Baroness Deech, who has tabled a bill calling for a three year cap to be placed on most maintenance payments, a situation similar to the current law in Scotland.

Deech, a former chair of the Bar Standards Board, told The Telegraph: “Our judges are being very old fashioned. They are over-chivalrous, the way they were in the 19th century. 

“If there is one thing that stops women getting back on their feet and being treated seriously and equally at work, it is the assumption throughout the legal system that once she is married, she is somehow disabled and incapable of ever managing on her own. It is a very serious impediment to equality. This case shows how unethical, unpopular and out-of-date the law is”. 

I consider that an excellent idea. I’ve argued before for a three-year limit on alimony in most cases. That’s ample time for anyone who took time off to devote to childcare or other family matters to re-establish herself in the workplace. Yes, there should be exceptions, but narrow ones. I’ve detailed those in previous pieces.

For her part, incredibly enough, Maria seems to believe that she’s the victim of the story.

“I genuinely believe women get the rough end of the stick after divorce”. 

Needless to say, she didn’t give examples of women getting “the rough end of the stick after divorce,” certainly not herself. After all, a woman who got £230,000 and now £1,441 per month from her ex and claims to have received “the rough end of the stick” surely redefines “chutzpah.” That said, my guess is that she’s already done so. Going to court for an increase in alimony based on having burned through a fairly large amount of pound notes and refusing to work much isn’t exactly playing the shrinking violet.

 

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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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