Burying your head in the sand and ignoring court orders is a good way of ensuring defeat in litigation. Jordan Kinsley-Smith, a member of the Watson Ramsbottom Dispute Resolution Team, reviews the circumstances in which a wealthy vineyard owner engaged in a big money divorce case found that out to his cost after failing to meet his obligations to his estranged wife.
The businessman, aged 70, and his 50-year-old wife separated after having two sons together. Having settled with the children in England, she launched divorce proceedings in London, about a month before her husband did the same in his native France. An English judge accepted jurisdiction to consider her petition on the basis that she was by then habitually resident in this country.
As an interim measure, the husband was ordered to pay his wife more than £4,000 a month in maintenance and to contribute to her legal costs. However, deeply unhappy at the prospect of the divorce taking place in England, the wife’s lawyers said that he had completely ignored those orders and had fallen over £120,000 into arrears. His refusal to engage in the proceedings was said to have extended even to a failure to communicate with his own English solicitors.
The wife had been left in a state of near penury, unable to pay her utility bills or rent. Her lack of funds meant that she would be unable to pay solicitors and barristers to represent her in the proceedings. The husband had been granted permission to appeal against the jurisdiction ruling, but the wife’s legal team argued that it would be an affront to justice for the appeal to proceed given his ongoing contempt in failing to obey court orders.
Following a hearing at which the husband was neither present nor represented, the Court of Appeal gave him two weeks to pay more than £100,000 towards his wife’s legal costs. The Court warned him that, if he failed to do so, his appeal would be automatically dismissed and the way would be open for his wife to press ahead with the divorce in England.
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