Whether we like it or not, we all depend upon the rule of law. Without it, a civilised society simply cannot function; there would, in short, be anarchy.
Now those are some pretty strong words to introduce a post about a husband who didn’t want to cooperate with a financial remedies claim issued by his wife, but ultimately this seemingly trivial act of defiance is a challenge to the rule of law. Society decides upon the rules, and every member of society must comply. Here, society has decided that when a marriage comes to an end each spouse is entitled to a financial settlement, and if the settlement cannot be agreed between them then either spouse may apply for the matter to be decided by a court. Obviously, without such a rule many spouses would be unable to obtain a settlement: an outcome that society is not prepared to tolerate.
Now, all family lawyers have come across opposing parties who, usually without legal representation (and therefore advice) decide that the rules are not for them. We see it in various areas of family law, but especially when money is involved. They don’t want their former spouse or partner to have a penny of ‘their’ money, and they think that if they don’t cooperate with the court then they will prevent them from getting it. Sadly for them, they are mistaken: failing to cooperate with the court does not make things better. As we will see, it makes them considerably worse.
Of course it would be a pretty feeble legal system if such a simple expedient as not cooperating could frustrate the will of the court. Accordingly, the court has certain tools at its disposal to ensure compliance, the most draconian of which is committal to prison.
And that was the tool that the wife asked the court to use in the recent case Parkinson v Daley. There is absolutely nothing new or unusual about this case – it is only reported because of its subject, not because it has anything new to say.
The particular scenario in Parkinson v Daley is especially common, as any family lawyer will be able to attest. The wife issued her financial remedies application, seeking a financial settlement consequent upon her divorce. Now, obviously the court cannot decide what would be an appropriate settlement without full details of the case, including details of the means of the parties. Accordingly, the rules provide that, once a financial remedies application has been issued, each party must file with the court a statement setting out details of their finances, known as a ‘Form E’. The Form E should be filed at least 35 days before the first hearing of the wife’s application, known simply as the ‘First Appointment’. Now the husband would have been informed of this by the court, when he was served with the wife’s application. However, he appears to have decided that the rules were not for him, and so ignored them.
The First Appointment took place on 19 May last. The husband, unsurprisingly, failed to attend. The court ordered him to file a completed Form E by 4pm on 8 July. Despite the fact that the order was endorsed with a penal notice warning him of the possible consequences of not complying with the order, the husband failed to file his Form E.
The matter went back to the court on 9 August and again the husband failed to attend. The wife therefore applied for him to be committed to prison for contempt of court, in failing to obey the order of the court. The application went before the court on 19 October. Yet again the husband failed to attend.
What happened next was, of course, inevitable. The court found the husband to be in contempt of court. He was therefore committed to prison for three months, suspended for fourteen days to give him one last chance to comply with the order, failing which the wife can apply for him to be committed to prison.
So, the message should be clear: you can’t just ignore court orders, and if you do so there will be consequences.
Long-time readers of this blog may possibly recall that I wrote a very similar post to this three years ago, in which I mentioned a warning given by the President of the Family Division of the consequences of failing to obey court orders generally, and an order to file a Form E specifically. I have no regrets about making the same point again, as clearly that warning is not being heeded.
The judgment in Parkinson v Daley – all eight paragraphs of it – can be found here.