The Supreme Court recently decided a case which made clear some of the limits that apply when financial issues were resolved within a consent order at the time of a divorce but where circumstances have changed over time and one spouse seeks to have the arrangements revisited by the courts.
It concerned an application by the ex-wife of a businessman to have the financial settlement they agreed when they divorced in 2002 revisited.
Under the settlement, the wife received most of the couple's cash assets – some £230,000 – and maintenance of £13,200 a year for life. She used the capital sum to buy a house with a mortgage as a top-up, but she over-extended herself and by 2015 was in debt and living in rented accommodation.
She applied to have her maintenance increased as she could no longer afford her rent, and her ex-husband applied to have the payments stopped. The argument went to the Court of Appeal, which increased the maintenance payments to more than £17,000 a year. The ex-husband appealed against that order.
The Supreme Court agreed with the ex-husband: the original settlement had taken housing costs into account. His ex-wife's situation was the result of decisions she had made subsequently and it would not be fair to expect him to foot the bill for those.