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.
Up until recently, there was always been a widespread assumption that contact with natural parents is usually beneficial for children of parents with addiction issues or are involved in crime.
However, the findings of a recent research project carried out by Grandparents Plus reviewed the effects of parental contact on children being cared for by relatives other than their parents. The findings suggest that contact with mothers which was of a difficult nature could have a lasting impact on children late into their teens, and even into adulthood.
The study found that contact with parents with drug or alcohol-related problems in an unsupervised environment can have a seriously detrimental effect on children. Under section 1 of the Children Act 1989, the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration; in the above kind of situations, they believe that the children are not being put first. The study highlights the importance of considering whether contact is supervised, the nature of that parent’s relationship with the child to date, and what type of support is offered.
‘Kinship caring’ is an increasing trend with more than 180,000 children in the UK being raised by a member of their family other than their parents. In the majority of these cases, the family courts have decided that the parents are unfit to care for their children due to drug or alcohol misuse and often have been convicted of crimes. The research has found that 52% of children in kinship care have experienced neglect or abuse in their previous home environments.
The study conducted by Grandparents Plus is based on a survey completed by over 650 kinship carers. This shows that, despite many carers stepping in to care for children who would have otherwise gone into local authority care, only one in ten feel they’re getting the support they need. 47% of carers say they are not getting the financial support they need, including 28% who feel very poorly supported. There are an estimated 180,000 children in the care of relatives in the UK, and it’s likely that up to 95% of carers are not entitled to any statutory support.
I am head of the family team and have been since I joined the firm in 2004. Prior to that, I was a barrister for 7 years practising in Central London. I then joined a smaller firm in Essex for a short period of time before moving to Pinney Talfourd. I lead a team which comprises of five partners, two senior associates, an associate and a solicitor.
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In the case of Hart v Hart, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC awarded Karen Hart just £3.5m out of the total assets amounting to just under £9.4m in a financial remedy order made in June 2015. This unusual ruling wasn’t as a result of a ‘short, sharp’ marriage as documented previously, as the couple’s marriage spanned 23 years.
Karen Hart’s solicitor said the settlement 'should have been based on an equal sharing of the assets they created between them during this time', and the recent ruling 'leaves the law in a state of flux. It allows a trial judge to find that even where it is not properly evidenced, the financial contribution of one spouse outweighs the family and domestic contribution of the other. This can lead to a result that is unfair and discriminatory, as it has done in this case. More such results are likely to follow, with the potential to set the law back more than 20 years'.
Regardless of whether this latest ruling will indeed set a precedent for financial remedy cases moving forward, it will no doubt make couples who are looking to wed in the near future think about their financial assets, and how best to allocate them should the worst occur by drafting up a prenuptial agreement.
Mrs Owens originally petitioned for divorce against her husband of 37 years on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. Under the law in England and Wales, a petition on this basis is one of only two ways separating couples can commence divorce proceedings immediately. Mr Owens defended the proceedings which in itself is somewhat unusual.
Multiple court hearings have since followed and the court have found, to date, that the examples of unreasonable behaviour Mrs Owens included within her divorce petition are not enough to satisfy the threshold, trapping her in what she calls “a loveless marriage”. The Court of Appeal found that "Parliament has decreed that it is not a ground for divorce that you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage, though some people may say it should be."
There is current debate surrounding whether there should be legislation to allow separating couples to divorce immediately on a ‘no fault basis’. The idea is that this would enable couples to engage in the divorce process on a more amicable, less confrontational basis and would hopefully avoid the type of litigation Mr & Mrs Owens have had to endure.
The case demonstrates that it is vital to seek legal advice at the outset of separation to ensure that unnecessary, costly and stressful litigation can be avoided.