Final financial orders – breaches and remedies

Reaching settlement in relation to matrimonial finances is stressful enough, but as most family law professionals are well aware, in some circumstances this is not necessarily the end. 

Unfortunately there are situations where one of the parties fails to adhere to the order or breaches an undertaking (a promise made to the court), meaning the the terms of the order cannot be implemented, or their intentions are frustrated. 

The article below highlights the approach the court can take to individuals who wilfully breach court orders to achieve their own ends to the detriment of the other party. 

In these circumstances it is important to be aware that there is further recourse to the court for assistance with this. For example, in situations where one party refuses to comply with a mandatory part of the order eg signing a transfer document enabling a property to be transferred or sold, the court can order that the document can be signed by someone else, including Judges themselves.

If money hasn’t been paid and there is a deliberate refusal to comply with the order despite having the means to do so, that defaulting party can be committed to prison for contempt of court. Likewise, as seen in the article below, a deliberate refusal to provide documentation required to effect the intention of the order and breaching an undertaking led to Mr Hart, an octogenarian, receiving a 14 month prison sentence.

There are a number of alternative orders the court can make following non payment of a debt or breach of an order and the appropriate avenue will have to be determined taking into account the relevant facts of each case.

If an enforcement application becomes necessary because of a party’s deliberate attempts to frustrate the order then it would usually be standard for the applicant to request that the non compliant party pays their costs of and occasioned by the application.

Whilst we always hope that obtaining a sealed financial order is the end of matters and that both parties can then move forwards having achieved that finality, it is worthwhile recognising that this is not always the case. In those circumstances, obtaining legal advice to ascertain your options is strongly advisable in order to identify the best way of promptly addressing any breaches and seeking the relevant remedies.

A wealthy property developer has been jailed for 14 months for contempt of court in relation to his divorce settlement.

John Hart, 83, was ordered to hand over £3.5m of his £9.4m wealth to his ex-wife, former flight attendant Karen Hart, as well as his shares in company Drakestown Properties Limited – two estates of industrial units in the West Midlands.

The shares, which amounted to a 'substantial part of the wealth” involved in the June 2015 divorce settlement – were transferred, making Karen Hart the owner of the company.

The judge, Stephen Wildblood QC, said Hart had 'done his utmost to frustrate her ability to run it efficiently and effectively” as he 'bitterly resents” that the company had been transferred to his former wife.