A breach of a Family Court Order in matrimonial finances is not always sanctioned at the first opportunity; in fact, it usually takes several breaches for the court to be willing to step in.
However, as the recent case of Hart V Hart  EWHC 549 (Fam) demonstrates, the Family Court will punish those persistent offenders, eventually. In this case, an 83-year-old man reneged on his undertaking, which was originally given in 2015 and contained within a Family Court Order at the time. The Undertaking, which is a promise to the court, required the husband to provide to the wife documents and information to assist her in running a company, which had been transferred to her upon the divorce. The husband did not do so willingly despite his promise to the court. The wife, therefore, had to bring the matter back before the court on several occasions throughout 2016 and 2017. During those years, further orders were made requiring the information to be provided, and yet the husband still did not comply with the Family Court Order.
The case came before HHJ Wildblood in February 2018 and, in his judgement of March 2018, the Judge determined that the husband had breached both his Undertaking and various Court Orders and that his actions were deliberate; his evidence untruthful; and that he had shown no remorse. His punishment was an immediate prison sentence of a total of 14 months.
HHJ Wildblood has shown in this case just how serious breaches of Family Court Orders are, and his readiness to punish this persistent offender by committing him to prison should serve as a warning to all parties in matrimonial financial proceedings.
This judge is not the first to impose a custodial sentence due to breaches of Family Court Orders. In the 2016 case of Trott V Trott, the husband and his new wife were sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and 14 days (which was suspended), respectively. The breaches, in this case, occurred when the husband sold matrimonial assets which were subject to a Family Court Order and did not pay to the wife’s solicitors the sale proceeds. His new wife was sanctioned by the court for not complying with an Order requiring her to produce bank statements and evidence of the purchase of a property.
Earlier cases such as Young V Young 2013; where the husband was imprisoned for failing to provide full financial disclosure and Zuk V Zuk 2012; where the Husband was imprisoned for 9 months failing to pay a lump sum of £15,000, support the lack of sympathy the Family Court Judges have for continued breaches of their Orders.
If you would like more legal advice relating to Family Court Orders relating to matrimonial finances, please contact our Family Law department on 01708 229444 or email us using the form to the right to arrange a free initial consultation.This article was written by Jennifer Herbert, Family Solicitor at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of April 2018.