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It is rare that the Family Court pleads for publicity, so when a judge decides to name a former couple involved in a financial hearing on divorce and says, “the public should be aware of the scale of problems that courts administering justice and implementing the rule of law have to face at the hands of unrepresented and malevolent litigants determined to do everything they can to destroy the process“, you know that this is an extreme case.

These two people  were married for 20 years before separation. As is so common in the family law reports these days, there are international aspects to the case. The husband’s business operated (or operates) in various countries around the world, and both the husband and wife have family and own property abroad. The wife’s estimates put the joint wealth at around £1.5m.

The critical factor in this couple’s divorce proceedings has been the husband’s “truly abysmal” conduct throughout. Examples of this given by the court in its final hearing judgment include the husband devising a bogus loan with his sister to defeat the wife’s claims, transferring many hundreds of thousands of pounds to the couple’s adult children also to put the money beyond the wife’s reach, selling the wife’s jewellery and giving away her possessions, stranding her in India, making her homeless, making threats to kill the wife and her lawyer, needing to be removed from the courtroom during hearings because of threatening behavior, being convicted of contempt of court, assaulting the wife and her lawyer, and fleeing abroad to avoid standing trial in the magistrates’ court. There is a warrant out for his arrest.

Finally, at the commencement of the final hearing, which he did not attend despite having been given dispensation to do so via videoconference or phone, he also sent abusive and threatening emails to the judge via his clerk.

Over the three years since the proceedings started, the court has dealt with 30 hearings including four fruitless appeals. The wife had incurred nearly £150,000 in costs – or would have done, had she not been supported by legal aid. The husband was unrepresented throughout.

The court had to value the assets available for sharing without any disclosure from the husband. Thankfully, some of the couple’s assets are English property, and the husband also has two pensions here. The court decided that it was reasonable to draw inferences about the husband’s true wealth from evidence about financial transfers to family members. This included a property bought by his sister and his son which the court found the husband had provided the money for and therefore, in essence, owned even though his name was not on the title. The court assessed that the husband had hidden at least half a million pounds in an attempt to stop the wife from having access to it.

The court awarded the wife half of the £1.5m it assessed as available. This meant that two properties would be transferred to her, subject to mortgage, and she would retain her own small place abroad. She would be able to sell the properties and buy a small mortgage-free house or flat for herself. She was also awarded 50% of her former husband’s pension. Thankfully, English properties and pensions are easy to enforce family court orders against, whether or not the husband plays ball. The court observed however that the wife also had a valid claim for maintenance, but had agreed to forego it in the knowledge that any order for periodical payments would be a struggle to enforce. The order will be in full and final settlement of all claims on divorce, and she will be able to move on independently.

As for the husband, the court dismissed the medical ‘certificate’ he had sent from a doctor in Romania, on which he had based his allegations of a life-threatening illness and his demand for an unlimited adjournment of the final hearing. It is clear from previous court decisions that in order to be effective, a medical report must be far more detailed than that which he supplied.

The court imposed a civil restraint order on the husband which will prevent him from making any applications to court (including sending emails to court) for two years. In order to apply for permission to make an application during that period, he will have to come to the court counter as an email application is not open to him.

Because of his disgraceful behaviour in the litigation, the husband was ordered to pay the wife’s costs of nearly £150,000. These were secured against the final English property, and the judge ordered that it be sold to fulfill the Order. Finally, the judge directed that the husband’s emails to court should be sent to the police for them to investigate possible criminal offences.

We have three main observations about this sad and disturbing case. The first is that the court has come down hard on the abusive husband. The wife can be fairly sure that he won’t make any more court applications as he can only do so by coming to the court, where he would be likely to be arrested for his earlier offences. Due in part to the costs award, the husband has lost nearly all his UK assets – apart from half of his pension – and the wife has been awarded them because she needs them for her future. The message here is that the court will find a way to stop the bad guys from winning, and won’t shy away from making inferences and awarding costs if that’s the appropriate thing to do.

The second observation is that had this case commenced in April 2013 instead of six months earlier, it might not have come to court at all as the wife may well not have been able to access legal aid. Since that date, only a small number of litigants have been entitled to legal aid for family law advice and representation. In the face of such abuse from the husband, and a strict test to achieve legal aid on domestic violence grounds, which she might not have met, might she have given up instead? How many do, and live in poverty, without access to courts?

Finally, the point made by Mostyn J in his decision to publicise this case is that sadly it is not an isolated one. The courts see this sort of thing frequently. He wanted to highlight the difficulties of administering family justice in these cases, and the impact they have on scarce court resources. We are happy to share the story so that the context of the court’s work can be better understood. If you have any queries about any aspect of this case or any other family law matter, please call 01223 443333 to make an appointment with Gail, Sue, Adam, Tricia or Simon.