Enforcement of financial settlements in the spotlight

Divorce|December 15th 2016

The family courts should have greater powers to enforce financial settlements after divorce or the end of a civil partnership, the Law Commission has claimed.

This independent statutory body reviews existing legislation and recommends reform. In a brand new report, the Commission sets out a range of recommendations designed to make it easier for the courts to respond when ex-spouses fail to meet their financial obligations.

Hindering court-ordered property sales or failing to pay child support and spousal maintenance can cause“significant hardship” for the poorer spouse, who may have a low income or even none at all. In the worse cases, they may find themselves unable to pay their mortgage or rent or to afford basic, daily necessities. Despite these problems, it can be challenging to enforce payment through the courts, especially if the recipient spouse has no lawyer.

The report explains:

“We estimate that on average there are 4,200 enforcement cases in relation to family financial orders each year. Although data on the total amount of money that goes unpaid each year through non-compliance with family financial orders is not routinely collected, we estimate that it is approximately £15 – 20 million.”

Amongst the recommendations made are additional guidance and information for litigants in person and simplification of the existing enforcement regulations.  In addition ‘debtors’ – i.e. the paying ex-spouse in a financial settlement – could be subject to more stringent obligations “to provide honest and early disclosure of his or her financial circumstances.”

If the recommendations become law, courts would have new power to obtain information on individual’s finances from third parties and to seek payment from currently inaccessible funds such as those in joint accounts and pensions.

Other enforcement measures under consideration for non-paying debtors include suspension for their driving licences or even their passport

Professor Nicholas Hopkins is Law Commissioner for property, family and trust law. He explained:

“The current law for the enforcement of family financial orders is unnecessarily complicated and often ineffective. These problems cause real hardship for the individuals involved. Judges need the necessary powers to ensure that those who can pay, but choose not to, comply with court orders.”

Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe welcomed the report, saying:

“These measures are much needed, won’t be difficult to implement and should make enforcement considerably easier even for people who are acting without lawyers. The range of possibilities means that people won’t be able to avoid enforcement as easily as they can do now because it’s so complex. I also support the proposed  amendment which would make it straightforward to enforce a pension sharing order made abroad against an English pension. At the moment it is very difficult to do so and in some cases it isn’t possible at all.”

Read more here.

Image by Alexander Baxevanis via Flickr

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  1. andrew says:

    Why should this class of creditor have methods of collection which others don’t?
    Many of these men are multiple debtors. What is needed is a sort of poor man’s bankruptcy; where you take as much as you reasonably can and divide it pro rate among the creditors who msut accept it ikn satisfaction.
    In real bankruptcy discharge should clear liabilities for lump sums as it does all otehr debts, but that is another issue.

  2. spinner says:

    If you had laws people respected such as a defined time period you have to pay spousal maintenance for then you would cut out a large portion of the people who don’t pay and the hardcore who won’t pay under any circumstances won’t care about losing their passport or driving licence anyway.

  3. JamesB says:

    I agree with Spinner. These courts undermine the credibility of the establishment also when it has little enough respect as it is.

    • spinner says:

      Very true the only people who now respect them are those that have never had any dealings with them or those who financially benefit from them.

  4. Andy says:

    There are two sides to a story of court Graceland payments.

    My example is where a Mother with two children, Pleading poverty as usual.Work’s part time and claims benefits as entitled to and of course very honest in form filling…
    Receives Child Maintenance Payments…
    Under application to court to still plead poverty, now solicitors uncovers hidden bank details of money moved into family accounts so to hide the usual masses of cash…this case is not a high earner and millions case just a every day siblings case…
    Court and judge collated all information and on this note decides to accept mothers poverty but not all poverty as disclosed.
    Result that father has no missed CMS payments,paid his share of the mortgage and supports children at weekends…All documented required…
    Judge awards what would be a usual 70/30 split.
    But in this case a MESHER order..lump sum by a certain date and the rest when youngest child is either 18/21 years of age…
    The crux of the court finance order is can mother not pay the lump sum to father on due date…or what excuses are to emerge….
    So for once some common sense by the judge…
    No spousal payments as well…

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