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Form E: what happens if you refuse to file it? By John Bolch

As I mentioned in this post, in his latest View from the President’s Chambers the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, recently warned that there should be consequences for failure to obey court orders. As if to emphasise this, last Friday the case of Ball v Shepstone was reported.

The judgment in the case was quite short. It concerned a wife’s application to the court for a settlement following divorce. On 15 July the husband was ordered by the court to file a Form E financial statement by 12 August 2013. The Form E is required by the court so that it has the information it needs to decide the financial application.

The husband failed to file his Form E and the wife applied to the court for him to be committed to prison for breach of the order. On 3 October 2013 the court found the husband to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with the order. Accordingly, the husband was committed to prison for fourteen days, suspended until 14 October to give him a final opportunity to file the Form E.

It would seem that the publication of this case is intended to send out a message that the courts will not tolerate refusal to comply with orders. As such, it is to be welcomed. As I said in my earlier post, failure of parties to comply with court orders is a regular frustration in family work. I’m sure many who are guilty of this have in the past been encouraged by the leniency or inaction of the court. Hopefully, the message will get out that you will not get away with it, and if it does then the incidence of such failures should be considerably reduced.

The failure to file a Form E on time is an all-too common problem that causes unnecessary delay in the progress of financial remedy applications. The reasons for such failures are manifold. For example, it may just be that the respondent to the application is slow in gathering together the details and documentation he or she requires to complete the form. On the other hand, the failure may be wilful, perhaps stemming from annoyance that the other party has made the application, an unwillingness to pay or just a belief that the court has no business prying into private financial arrangements. Or it may simply be a determination to do everything to delay and frustrate the application.

Whatever the reason, there has clearly been a cavalier attitude to filing Form Es in some quarters. As I indicated above, this may have been fuelled by a belief that the court “won’t do anything about it.” Perhaps it has also been fuelled by an ignorance of possible sanctions. Either way, the President’s initiative and the publication of cases such as Ball v Shepstone should go some way to alleviating the problem.

And the problem doesn’t necessarily end when the Form E is filed with the court. Often it is incomplete, sometimes with no more than a sulky token effort at filling it in. Hopefully, the courts will also crack down on this sort of behaviour, which is often little better than not filing the Form E at all.

A respondent to a financial remedies application will usually be given at least seven weeks to file their Form E. In most cases this should be sufficient, but obviously there may be more complex cases where it is not. If so, the respondent should ask the court for more time.

In other words, there should be no excuse for failure to comply with court orders.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Luke says:

    Clearly the court has to respond if its orders are ignored – it’s a shame they do not do this more often on the abuse of contact orders.

    If you don’t want to be threatened with this then the solution is simple – don’t sign the marriage contract. Of course many men got married before the changes to Family Court laws came in so they have my deepest sympathy. Men who get married now – not so much – the information is out there if one is not stupid enough to ignore it.

    Men who cohabit should take note, Family Court will be coming for them soon when the cohabitation laws are brought in, they will undoubtedly be retrospective just like the marriage law changes were.
    Talk to your partner about a cohabitation contract that you can agree on – and if you can’t agree then break up !

  2. Paul says:

    Pity the same rule was never applied to contact orders.

  3. JamesB says:

    I agree with Paul and Luke. Sorry my name isn’t mark matthew or john on this occasion to have more references to a great leader of Men :-), the new testament for those who need it spelt out, well I suppose John is there too.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Luke, that’s a bit unfair. The suckers have no idea what they are getting into. The information is there, yes, but hidden, and who but the most perverse of men consults Warschak’s Divorce Poison when they are wanting to believe they are in love?

  5. Luke says:

    Actually the information on avoiding marriage didn’t come to me from the Internet, it wasn’t all there like it is today – I got it from my co-workers – and I was astounded at the rough deal they said they were getting from Family Court.

    Their description of their financial shafting and child contact limitation appeared to be so bad to me that at first I thought they were exaggerating, but as I changed jobs and time went on the same litany of woe kept being told.

    So when I looked up what one can actually expect from Family Court I found their stories to be consistent with what one might expect – my own experience of helping with a family divorce just confirmed how badly for men it plays out in practice – in my opinion.

  6. JamesB says:

    Not just your opinion. Mine too and most if not all men who have knowledge of the subject.

  7. annoymous says:

    Talk to your partner about a cohabitation contract that you can agree on – and if you can’t agree then break up !

    See below Cohabitation Act 2014 -existing Deeds of Trusts and co habitation agreements can be overidden by the courts under these new laws, be careful boys !

    15 Variation or revocation by the court of cohabitation agreements or deeds of
    (1) Where one of the parties to a cohabitation agreement or deed of trust referred
    to in section 6(2)(c) makes an application for a financial settlement order, either
    party may apply to the court for an order under subsection (2).
    (2) The court may vary or revoke the agreement or deed in such circumstances and
    to such extent as the court considers appropriate.

  8. Paul says:

    It is stated above in the last line of the blog that “there should be no excuse for failure to comply with court orders”. Yet I wonder how many times Mr Bolch had once himself represented clients who had done just that, and went on to make excuses for them, in particular resident parents i.e mothers, defying contact orders.

    I made the point, maybe too forcibly as the lines were removed, that it is hypocrisy for courts to hit with heavy hammers regarding certain orders in family matters and not others. It’s also easy work to make a criminal out of a father rather than a mother, isn’t it?

    Everything is in the perception – rather as Macpherson said in the Lawrence report – and time and again we see the anti-male, anti-father bias coming through in the totality of these judicial decisions.

  9. Luke says:

    Hmmm…. thanks for that.
    This is related to current cohabitation agreements – basically the court can just override what was previously agreed before this new cohabitation law came into play.

    The promised opt-out process has a caveat as well, it is not as bad as current cohabitation agreements but you still don’t have 100% certainty about where you stand.
    What does “manifestly unfair” mean ? I guess that depends on what one individual Judge thinks on the day.
    People want certainty but as usual the courts are not going to give it to them…

  10. annoymous says:

    “manifestly unfair

    translated to english from lawyer speak –

    ” a female with a child who worked in a supermarket for 6 pounds per hour who has no education/.prospects, who has no assets, against a hot shot engineer with a degree who owns his own home , pension, and savings , 60k a year income”

    Guess who the courts going to come after for the prizes!

  11. Stitchedup says:

    Anonymous, you just touched a nerve for me.

  12. Andrew says:

    Sorry, but what is this Cohabitation Act 2014?

    First, there are no Acts dated 2014, not yet at least; and second, there is no Act called the Cohabitation Act of any year.

    There is a Cohabitation Rights Bill before Parliament from which Anonymous is quoting but it’s a Private Peer’s Bill with no chance of being passed.

    Things are bad but not that bad. Not yet.

  13. Luke says:

    “There is a Cohabitation Rights Bill before Parliament from which Anonymous is quoting but it’s a Private Peer’s Bill with no chance of being passed.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure about that, it’s not just the Liberal Democrats – you have women’s groups and the legal system all pushing hard for it.
    Most MP’s will vote for a cohabitation law because they will come under pressure from these groups to do so. They will also be worried about who pays for single mothers if they cannot force the men to do so ?

    I think it will probably be in by the end of the next Parliament in one form or another – AND it will be retrospective.

  14. JamesB says:

    Men vote too Luke ;-).

  15. JamesB says:

    Example, perhaps if the Tories hadn’t gone on about the CSA so much then they might have won the last election. I do think that.

  16. Luke says:

    JamesB, men don’t lobby nearly as effectively as women’s groups do, not even close, we have seen this for decades now. Society’s backdrop has become that of a feminist agenda – it only rolls one way.
    e.g. Women qualify now far more effectively in going to University (at least in overall numbers), but the ‘script’ is still about how women are oppressed in education and feminists looking to ‘level’ the playing field.

    If you combine this with the needs and power of the Legal System it will be surprising if it doesn’t happen in the next Parliament.

  17. Lorna says:

    My ex husband claimed to have filed his Form E, at the ADR the Court could not find it – I asked why the hearing was not being postponed. The ADR continued, my ex had lied on his Form E but the Judge had no reference. Should the ADR have been cancelled?

    • Kate Nestor says:

      Hi, I have passed on your comments to our Client Care Team who will be in touch and able to help you. Kind regards,

    • Tough says:

      The same happened to me and the judge assigned the case refused to conduct it. Areplacement judge stood in – I asked that the hearing be reassigned and was told it had to go ahead. That was the start of all my troubles and led to enormous costs.

  18. Jenna says:

    What do you do if your ex doesn’t file the form e? He has a big fancy solicitor, I can’t afford that. I’ve busted a gut to get mine done. His solicitor simply said it wasn’t ready and through no fault of his own (erm… he filed so has had sufficient time to prepare – he knew it was coming!) Do I just have to wait now? Does the court know its not filed and make an effort to seek it? It really messes up me having time to raise questions before the hearing. Does that get delayed by default or does someone ask for it?

    • Kate Nestor says:

      Thanks for your query. I have passed it onto our Client Care Team who will put you in touch with one of our lawyers. Kind regards,

    • Raghav says:

      My to be wife is facing similar kinda issue her ex husbands solicitor has asked for form E to be filled will she has any repercussions of filing it does she needs to share half of her financial earnings from salary post divorce with her ex husband

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