Haskell v Haskell: There is a phenomenon in financial remedy cases that I’m sure will be all too familiar to experienced family lawyers. It is the incredible coincidence of a party, usually, the husband, who was previously living in clover but who suddenly falls upon hard times, precisely when the marriage fails and the wife makes a financial remedy claim.
Temporary change of circumstances
Of course, sometimes the husband’s change of circumstances is real. And sometimes it is just temporary. In the recent case Haskell v Haskell, Mr Justice Mostyn took the latter view.
The case, though, is also a rather unpleasant example of a husband, who clearly had access to considerable sums of money, exerting what Mr Justice Mostyn described as “insidious coercive control” over the wife and the children, on the basis that they would only get any of that money it they bent to his will.
The facts of the Haskell v Haskell case were as follows.
- The husband is aged 53. He was born in the USA but now lives in Moscow. His father is “exceptionally wealthy”, and had established a trust for the benefit of his grandchildren.
- The wife is aged 39. She was born in Belarus and remains a citizen of that country.
- The husband and wife met in 2003 in Moscow and were married there in 2008.
- There are three children of the marriage: ‘A’, who was born in 2009, ‘B’, who was born in 2012, and ‘C’, who was born in London in 2014, the parties having moved there in 2013. Sadly, C is profoundly impaired: immobile, blind and speechless. She lives in Belarus under the primary care of the wife’s mother, supported by 24-hour professional care.
- The marriage broke down and in November 2016 the wife issued divorce and financial remedy proceedings. However, the proceedings were put on hold, as the parties explored the possibility of a reconciliation. The husband continued to generously support the wife and the children while living a high lifestyle himself.
- Mr Justice Mostyn takes up the story:
“In January 2019 the husband reached the conclusion that a reconciliation was not going to work and announced that the parties would proceed to a divorce. At that point everything changed. His attitude to the wife became unremittingly punitive. He denounced her as a gold-digger and began a process of financial attrition which has led to the present dire situation where the wife and children are shortly to be evicted from their home in Central London and made homeless.”
The husband terminated the tenancy over the family home in Central London and claimed that he could not continue to support the wife and children at the same level. He even suggested that the apartment in which B was living in Belarus would have to be sold.
As Mr Justice Mostyn commented:
“The clear picture that emerges is one of insidious coercive control. The wife and children will only get money and be supported by the husband, provided that they bend to his will.”
- In March 2019 the court ordered the husband to pay interim maintenance in the total sum of about £45,700 per month. The husband flatly refused to pay that sum, and unilaterally decided to pay what he felt was reasonable.
- Meanwhile, the wife produced evidence which made it clear that the husband continued to live the ‘high lifestyle’.
- The final hearing of the wife’s financial remedy application went before Mr Justice Mostyn at the end of January.
Mr Justice Mostyn accepted the husband’s case that he was “presently forging a change of direction in his business activities”, and that this, therefore, affected his present ability to pay any award. However, he found that the husband did have substantial assets, and was satisfied that the husband’s fortunes would revive in about two years.
Accordingly, he made a substantial award in favour of the wife but gave the husband until 2022 to pay most of it, amounting then to around £5 million
You can find the full judgment on Haskell v Haskell here.