The former director of a software firm has won his appeal against a suspended jail sentence after failing to pay his ex-wife court-ordered maintenance.
The couple’s marriage ended after 25 years in 2013. They led a prosperous lifestyle but also spent freely, a pattern which continued after their separation. By the time their case reached court, ”huge and pressing” debts were accumulating and their assets were no longer sufficient to meet both parties’ needs. As a result a Judge awarded most of the remaining funds to the wife. As a former stay-at-home mother who had abandoned her career decades before, she had little earning capacity, Judge Glen Brasse declared, and she had relied on her husband for “his expertise in producing a good standard of living.”
Priority had to be given to housing her and the couple’s children, he added
The former director was also ordered to pay her £2,000 a month in maintenance, and received a six week suspended jail term after failing to do so.
At his subsequent appeal, the husband pressed for a ‘clean break’ settlement’. His barrister told the Court of Appeal there was no evidence he ha deliberately neglected to pay maintenance. His company had gone into administration, he had been evicted from his flat and was relying on the charity of a girlfriend. He was ‘homeless, insolvent, and unable to meet his obligations.”
Meanwhile, his wife had found permanent work as an estate agent’s receptionist and inherited a substantial sum from her mother. This meant, the husband’s counsel insisted, that she was now better off than the husband.
“In the current circumstances, he will be unable to go on paying anything to his former wife. Is this now a clean break case? I submit that it is. I believe it is time now to sever financial ties between this couple.”
Meanwhile, the barrister continued, threatening him with jail over the unpaid maintenance was a hangover from the Victorian era of debtors’ prisons, and violated the husband’s European Convention rights.
It was not ‘in keeping with the modern view that husbands and wives approach this court on an equal footing”, he declared.
The wife’s counsel then announced they would accept dismissal of the jail term. But the wife still opposed the proposed clean break, claiming that the husband’s current income was shrouded in uncertainty.
Lady Justice Black, Lord Justice Floyd and Mr Justice Moylan reserved judgment.