Some divorcees are regrettably reluctant to comply with financial orders made against them by judges. However, as a High Court case showed, those who breach such orders can expect severe punishment, up to and including imprisonment.
Following a financial remedies hearing, a businessman was ordered to pay his ex-wife over £5.8 million by instalments. He was required to pay the first instalment of £50,000 the day after the hearing. After that sum remained unpaid, the wife issued a judgment summons seeking his committal to prison under the Debtors Act 1869.
Ruling on the case, the Court was entirely satisfied that the businessman had money available to him with which he could have paid the £50,000 when it fell due and that he had refused or neglected to do so. He had entirely set his heart against compliance with court orders, other than on his own terms.
The Court found that the wife had failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he had refused or neglected to make certain other payments, including a second instalment of over £600,000. It was highly likely that he had met his maintenance obligations in respect of the couple’s three children.
His very modest payments to the wife had, however, left her in significant financial difficulties to the point where the children’s home was under threat. His flagrant breaches of court orders merited a six-week prison term, the maximum sentence available. The Court, however, gave him 14 days to pay the £50,000. If he met that deadline, that would be the end of the matter and he would not go to prison.
The Court issued a port alert and a bench warrant for the arrest of the businessman, who was currently overseas and did not attend the hearing. He was ordered to pay the wife’s £30,000 legal costs on the punitive indemnity basis.