Divorcees who seek to hide the true extent of their wealth can expect to be dealt with firmly by family judges and often end up facing bigger bills than those who are frank from the outset. The Court of Appeal made that point in rejecting an uncooperative husband’s challenge to an order requiring him to pay his ex-wife a seven-figure lump sum.
Following the acrimonious end of the couple’s 20-year marriage, which yielded three children, a judge found that a clean break was imperative, not least because the wife was in fear of the husband, who had been convicted of assaulting and harassing her. The husband had refused to dissolve the marriage by means of a Get, a religious requirement in certain sections of the Jewish community.
The judge found that the husband had added to the complexity of the case by comprehensively failing to comply with court orders or to accurately disclose the extent of his financial resources. With a view to providing for the wife’s fair needs, the husband was ordered to pay her a £1.4 million lump sum. He was also required to pay interest on that sum, and £22,000 a year in maintenance to the wife until he both satisfied the debt and granted her a Get.
In dismissing the husband’s appeal against those orders, the Court rejected his plea that the judge had erred in failing to make even a broad brush evaluation of his undisclosed assets. The judge was entitled to find that such an assessment had been rendered impossible by the husband’s lack of cooperation.
Giving guidance for the future, the Court emphasised that judges must not jump to conclusions as to the extent of undisclosed wealth. However, if the lump sum order was unfair to the husband, that was his own fault and better than any unfairness to the wife. The judge was rightly astute to ensure that the husband did not obtain a better outcome due to his failure to comply with his disclosure obligations and was entitled to conclude that his assets were sufficient to meet both his own and the wife’s reasonable needs.