It is sadly common for wealthy people to exhibit extreme reluctance to disclose their assets if their marriages end in divorce. However, as a case concerning a husband worth more than £300 million showed, family judges have all the powers they need to punish those who drag their feet in complying with court orders.
After celebrating their wedding in Oman, the couple were married for 12 years and had three children together. After their relationship broke down, they engaged in a race to be the first to lodge divorce proceedings. The husband obtained a divorce certificate in Oman, which was presented to the wife the day after she served him with an English divorce petition.
Following a hearing in London, the validity of the Omani certificate was upheld and the wife’s English petition was dismissed. However, as she had lived in England for some years, she was permitted to apply for financial provision from the husband under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
The wife’s lawyers obtained an order requiring the husband to provide full details of his assets worldwide on the basis that such disclosure was necessary to ensure just resolution of the proceedings. After the deadline for compliance with that order came and went, they sought the husband’s committal to prison for contempt of court.
In ruling on the matter, the High Court was satisfied that the husband was well aware of the order despite having failed to engage in the proceedings. His deliberate disobedience had been proved beyond reasonable doubt. The Court imposed a three-month prison sentence, but suspended the term for seven days in order to encourage his belated compliance with his disclosure obligations.