It’s an attitude that family lawyers come across all too frequently when dealing with financial remedy applications on divorce: one party, usually the one with most of the assets (which is more often than not the husband) decides that they will not cooperate with the court. After all, it’s so easy: give the court the impression that your financial position is far worse than it is, and you will end up paying much less, or even nothing to your spouse. And you do that by failing to disclose all of your assets, by failing to comply with court orders, or by simply lying to the court about your true financial position.
This attitude was neatly summarised by the wife’s counsel in the recent case R v A, in which Mr Justice Baker agreed with their summary of the husband’s approach to the case: “catch me if you can”.
Now, there’s no way I’m going to go into the detail of this case here. It is set out in a lengthy judgment, which covers, in particular, all of the complications of the husband’s financial circumstances, his failures to give full and frank (and prompt) disclosure of his means, and his efforts to make his financial position appear considerably worse than it really was.
In any event, such detail is not required for the purposes of this post. Instead, I will just mention a few of the essential points.
The case concerned the wife’s financial remedies application, following a twenty-five-year marriage. As Mr Justice Baker explained, during the marriage the family enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, as a result of the husband’s successful property development business. However, latterly his business ran into difficulties, and he alleged that by the time of the wife’s application he had liabilities which significantly exceeded the family’s assets. The central issue in the case was whether the husband and his business associates had fabricated or exaggerated those liabilities in an attempt to defeat the wife’s claim.
Mr Justice Baker made a number of findings, including the following:
1. That the wife was a straightforward and honest witness.
2. That in contrast, the husband was an unreliable witness and, at times, an untruthful one.
3. That the husband’s attitude to the court process had been cavalier and irresponsible. On occasions, he had shown little regard for court orders or court rules. His failure to comply with his obligations to give full and frank disclosure had been deliberate and willful. He produced documentation in dribs and drabs, and at the last minute.
4. The husband alleged that he owed considerable sums to a Panamanian company, ‘C Finance’, which had lent him money. Mr Justice Baker found that the loans alleged to been made by C Finance were a fiction. The truth was that the husband had procured the assistance of his acquaintances and offshore associates to try to create evidence to defeat the wife’s claim.
5. That the husband had spent money on himself in a “cavalier fashion”, and failed to comply with his obligations to support the wife under a maintenance pending suit order which, he was satisfied, was an obligation he was well able to afford. The husband could have paid the maintenance at any point but chose not to do so, preferring to spend the money on himself.
In the circumstances, Mr Justice Baker made an order that largely reflected the wife’s proposals, and that was considerably more generous towards the wife than what the husband was proposing. The husband’s behaviour had backfired, or to use the wife’s counsels’ phase, he had been caught.
Mr Justice Baker was undecided about what order should be made for costs and left that point to be decided later. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the husband is ordered to pay the wife’s costs or at least a substantial proportion of them.
Once again a salutary lesson: do not try to fool the court, obey its orders and rules and, above all, do not lie to the court.