Graham Mills – you may not know his name but you will probably be familiar with his story: he is an ordinary, hard-working man who sought to have his maintenance payments stopped or reduced and so that he could finally be free from the relationship with his ex of over 17 years.
“I thought the case was straight forward: I had given her a massive lump sum, our son was several years over the age of 18, my ex-wife had re-established a career for herself and had more than enough time to adjust to independence”. Instead, he was told that he had to increase his payments by nearly a third, and that this was to go on for the rest of his life (and some lawyers have even suggested this could continue after his death).
Leading barristers have claimed that the ruling has set maintenance rulings back 20 years and goes against the expectations that divorced couples should become independent. Some have viewed this as having set feminism back. If people were outraged by this story, they probably moaned about the injustice and then forgot about it. However, Graham Mills has not forgotten about this and “this situation is constantly on my mind”. When not at work, Graham is busy campaigning to raise money to appeal the court’s verdict. He got in touch with the Divorce Club to help him put out his story in his own words.
I went to meet Graham and expected someone full of anger towards his ex-wife, eager to play up his side as a victim. He was nothing like this. He understood that she would want to be supported. “Most of my anger is at the justice system for disempowering her from having the confidence to support herself, and burdening me with the financial responsibility for someone I have nothing to do with”.
All the while, Graham has never lost sight of the people that mattered the most to him and the values he holds dear. So, while we spoke about the ins and the outs of the case, he also spoke about the “difficulty of fighting for what I believe in, while at the same time protecting my family”.
Graham had just come from a lunch with his eldest son (from this first marriage). “I understood how hard it must be for my son to watch his parents fight so publicly, and so I work hard to maintain our close relationship”. His son has lived with him part of each week since he originally split from his wife and Graham continues to check in with how he is feeling about this whole saga.
The other people affected by this case are Graham’s current wife and 11 year-old son, who have had to face journalists on their doorstep, watched their savings dwindle and see the toll it has taken on Graham.
Graham was reluctant to talk about the emotional impact of his circumstances, worried that his friends, family and clients might question his ability to cope. Nevertheless, he said that “the stress and outcome of the case have made me feel depressed and unmotivated as such a large percentage of what I earn goes towards the maintenance of someone I have not spoken to for over a decade”. He has also found it hard to sleep, wound up about the injustice and how he has been badly let down by the legal system.
So what is it that motivates Graham to continue this physically, emotionally and financially draining battle? The answer is justice.
“One of my core values is that you work hard and don’t expect anyone to support you; not the state, your family or your ex-spouse of nearly 15 years” Graham says. “I assumed that the value of working would be supported by the courts of our supposedly fair and just nation, and so when it wasn’t, it really shook my belief that I lived in a fair society”.
Justice is such an important principle that he wishes to fight for it, and is spurred on by the outpouring of support from men and women in a similar situation.
Here are some of the facts of the case:
- 15 years ago Graham divorced and agreed his ex-wife could have £230,000 lump sum, sufficient to buy a mortgage free house and that he would continue to pay her £1,100 a month. Additionally he paid maintenance for his son.
- He was left with £20,000 and his small business which was his livelihood and which he had worked hard to set up.
- Instead of buying a mortgage free house his wife took a big mortgage to buy a larger house. Over the next 7 years she moved twice, each time taking on larger mortgages and within 7 years she had spent all the money and had to move to rented property. Despite being repeatedly asked, she has never admitted to where the money went.
- In 2014, Graham instigated proceedings to stop or reduce the maintenance. Their son was at University, her previous illness was no longer an issue, and she had been earning a good living as a beauty therapist for several years. She had done well to re-establish a normal life.
- In response, his ex-wife instigated proceedings to double the maintenance payments and at the same time she claimed that her earnings had drastically fallen and she also claimed that she could only work 2 or 3 days a week due to ill health. This was disproved in court.
- They arranged to go to mediation however she wanted a massive (hundreds of thousands) sum in full and final settlement the mediation was pointless and an expensive court battle commenced.
- In the first court proceedings, the Judge concluded that his ex-wife should trim her budget but that Graham was told he had to continue paying his ex-wife the same amount.
- The original Judge described Graham has “honest and reliable” and his wife as an “unreliable witness” who had exaggerated her medical claims. Nevertheless the High Court Judges told him that he had to increase the payments her to £1,441 per month. The Judges concluded that the original Judge was wrong to tell her to trim her budget without telling her which items to trim.
“Why is an intelligent woman deemed unable to organise a budget? Why is a capable woman staying at home while an ex-husband has to continue working in order to fund the alleged shortfall in her earnings?” Grham questions. He feels frustrated that his ex-wife is not asked to find alternative employment or expected to work a normal week; “I am working harder so that she does not have to” says Graham. Graham is also angry that his ex wife has not been held accountable for what he feels is her financial recklessness.
When I met him, Graham was worried about what lay in store for him: “What if my business fails? What about when I am old and retired?” And most importantly; “What if SHE makes further poor financial decisions and wants more money?”. After all he is still not paying her as much as she wanted. Graham reflected that he was tired and that he “cannot accept to live with this uncertainty hanging over my head for the rest of my life”.
Graham did not choose for this to hit the media but the High Court is a public arena, which journalists often attend and his divorce captured the public interest. Journalists and photographers camped outside his home and office, begging to interview him. He gave one interview to the Evening Standard calling for a change in the law but has refused other offers. “I also chose not to dignify the numerous lies and inaccuracies floating up in the press as I feared that this would escalate in mud-slinging with my ex-wife which I wanted to protect my family from at all cost”.
Graham is not vindictive towards his ex-wife but simply wants to end their relationship. He had come to meet me, as he trusted that we were not interested in dishing up dirt but of helping him express his side of the story in a way in which he felt comfortable.
We reflected that, while so much was out of control, how he handled the public attention was one thing that was still in his power. So, Graham’s final thoughts were that “I will continue to fight for justice and freedom from this financial burden and ongoing threat, but this will not be at the expense of my dignity”.
If you feel that it is wrong that an ex can come after you at any point in the future and request more money, even after having given him/her an equitable sum, then please support Graham by helping him to fund his legal costs: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/graham-mills-1
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.