A level playing field?

On 24 July 2018 Mr Justice Holman reminded family lawyers that it is plainly unfair for one party to use their financial superiority as a lever against a financial disadvantaged party to gain advantage.

The husband in LKH v TQA AL Z [2018] EWHC 2436(Fam) had failed to file his Form E (Financial Statement) providing full and frank disclosure and the case was back before Mr Justice Holman for the third time of asking. The husband should have filed his Form E by 27 March, so he was now four months late. Two previous extensions had been agreed and now he was requesting a further three weeks.

So what can a Judge do in these circumstances?

The Form E is needed to progress the case. Committing the husband to prison for being in breach of a Court Order does not aid completion or improve the situation for the wife. Unfortunately for the wife the husband’s recalcitrance did not stop at his failure to file a Form E. At one of the earlier hearings the husband had promised to pay a range of household payments and other outgoings for the wife and children. By July it appeared that to a large extent the husband had complied with this promise apart from payment of the children’s governess who as a consequence was now no longer employed.

What the husband had not done, however, was pay the wife interim maintenance of £29,500 per month as ordered by Mr Justice Holman. Whilst the maintenance payment included £3,500 per month for a driver for the wife - it appeared that the husband had chosen to pay the driver direct, apparently having instructed the driver not to drive the wife anywhere unless she was accompanied by the children.

In addition to the maintenance the husband was also ordered to pay the wife £40,000 per month towards payment of the wife’s costs. Whilst these are not insubstantial sums, it should be noted that the husband had informed the Court that his net wealth was approximately £34million, although he also asserted that his assets were mainly illiquid.

Despite his assertion that he could not access his assets, when the case came before Mr Justice Holman it appeared that during the last month the husband had paid his own solicitors £95,000 in relation to costs. By this time the husband owed the wife £100,000 in maintenance arrears, £120,000 in outstanding costs payments plus an additional £10,000 in actual costs ie. a total of £230,000.

Mr Justice Holman clearly took the view that the husband was looking after himself and seeking to control the proceedings by accessing legal advice for himself, but placing in question the wife’s ability to also receive advice.

So what did Mr Justice Holman do?

  1. He ordered the husband to file his Form E in three weeks.
  2. The husband was injuncted preventing him from paying any further monies to any solicitor or barrister that he instructed or sought advice from unless he paid an equal amount to the wife’s solicitors.
  3. The arrears due to the wife (both maintenance and costs) still stand and need to be paid.

The way that the case has unfolded to date suggests that before long the case will be back before Mr Justice Holman and so the saga will continue.

Posted on: 05/10/2018

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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