ASK A FAMILY LAWYER
In this regular column, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues. Today’s topic goes to Rachel Roberts, a Partner in our Leeds office. If you have a question, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll choose one to be featured in the next Ask A Family Lawyer.
Blog reader Susan asks:
I am a 48 year-old woman whose divorce was finalised four years ago, complete with a consent order in which it was agreed that my ex-husband was to pay half the cost of my pets. My ex started paying a monthly amount which he then decided to decrease. Upon sending him invoices he became unkind and I received texts and emails from both him and his current wife. Because of the stress these emails etc caused and also because of my deteriorating health, house move and the death of my mother I couldn’t face sending the invoices off for four years.
Upon receipt of new invoices I got an unnecessary and unwarranted email from my ex’s wife followed by the return of my neatly and clearly filed-invoices, with items deducted and things labelled as ‘extravagant’ and ‘unnecessary’. He reduced the amount owed by approximately £600 and said he would pay it monthly over 48 months.
Because I could not face the stress and unnecessary unkindness I agreed, only to receive an email a week later saying he had changed his mind and would pay nothing in arrears and only things from April 2017 if the invoices were sent promptly. He said I should have made him aware of the rising costs which I did, as did my daughter on many occasions.
Surely a consent order such as this is cut and dried? He should pay half the costs and not be able to dictate what he will pay and when. Do I have a reasonable case with which to take matters to court? I have proof of their emails over a number of years, as well as his agreement to pay off a lesser amount over 48 months. He agreed to this and then went back on it.
Thank you for your enquiry. Where the Court has made provision within a consent order and one party fails to comply with the terms of it, the terms become enforceable and it is possible to take steps to recover any arrears arising.
The Court has limited powers to make certain specific financial orders on divorce and this does not include maintenance for pets. Whether you are able to enforce this aspect of your agreement will therefore depend on the manner in which the order was drafted and how this provision to pay towards the upkeep of your pets was included. Sometimes, for example, a preamble is included which simply cites an agreement to do something. This will not be enforceable but relies on good will. You will need legal advice to confirm this.
But assuming the consent order does contain binding terms on this issue, there are various methods of enforcement. These include:
- Third party debt orders (where you look to recover the arrears from money held by a third party on the debtor’s behalf, often their bank account)
- ‘Attachment of earnings’ orders
- Charges against property
- Seizure of goods by bailiffs
This is not an exhaustive list but an example of the powers available to the Court. Consideration would need to be given to your former husband’s financial circumstances so as to consider the best means of enforcement. Unfortunately, most enforcement action only allows the recovery of very limited fixed costs from the debtor if the action is successful and the costs can sometimes be disproportionate to the debt.
Therefore, in summary, a consent order is binding once sealed by the Court and it can be enforced but the scenario you raise is unusual and without sight of the order and more detailed facts it is difficult to comment in detail on the steps that may be open to you.