Husband imprisoned for contempt of court in divorce case

Claire Andrews
Arrested male businessman with handcuffs

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Non-compliance with any court order is dealt with seriously as contempt of court and carries the risk of a prison sentence. The family court is no different and recently sentenced a former husband to six weeks’ imprisonment – unless he paid a £50,000 lump sum due under a financial remedies order.

Claire Andrews is a specialist divorce lawyer at Osbornes Law and is highly experienced in helping clients negotiate a fair financial settlement and protecting their interests throughout. If your former spouse is not fulfilling their financial obligations to you or you’re concerned they may be hiding assets, get in touch with Claire for urgent help.

What happened in this case?

This was a high value divorce case with the proceedings culminating in a 6-day financial remedies hearing in which the wife was awarded a lump sum of £5,878,732. The husband was ordered to pay an initial instalment of £50,000 the next day, with the balance payable in two tranches – one a couple of weeks later and the other two years hence.

The husband had told the judge that the £50,000 was not, in fact, available – but the order was made anyway. A judgment summons was issued for non-payment of the initial instalment and an order was made.

At the committal hearing in the Family Court on 17 May 2021, the husband did not attend or give evidence. Even so, the judge ruled that he was satisfied on the wife’s evidence that he did have the means since the date of the original order to pay the first instalment due and had either refused or neglected to pay it. He committed the husband to prison for six weeks from 1 June if he had not paid the initial £50,000 due to the wife.

The husband appealed but failed. He tried to satisfy the appeal judges that the Family Court judge could not have been satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he had £50,000 available, “such that the court could be satisfied that he was in default by refusal or neglect such as to impose a sentence of six weeks”.

However, the Court of Appeal did not accept that explicit evidence was necessary to prove the money had not been paid. The judge was entitled to draw proper inferences from the evidence that before him, which might include an inference that unless there were some reason to believe to the contrary the original default was continuing.

The judge was, therefore, entitled to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the £50,000 was still outstanding.

You can read the ruling in Haskell v Haskell [2021] EWCA Civ 1295 here

How can we help?

Our expert divorce lawyers are highly experienced in negotiating financial remedies settlements and securing fair and effective financial remedies orders from the court. We also have the capabilities to take prompt action where a former spouse is in default.

Osbornes Law are leading divorce lawyers in London. The firm is ranked in the legal directories and has been named one of the best law firms in England since 2019. We have two offices based in Hampstead and Camden. The firm is also shortlisted as London Family Law Firm of the Year 2022 at the Family Law Awards.

Claire Andrews is a specialist divorce lawyer with a particular emphasis on complex high net worth cases often involving a trust element.  She is also featured in The Legal 500 as a recommended lawyer.

To speak with Claire, please call, or complete an online enquiry form.

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