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When family judges make financial orders in divorce cases, they are not beating at air and have a panoply of powers to make sure that they are obeyed. A wealthy businessman who spent over £70,000 on his wedding to his new wife, whilst neglecting to pay maintenance to his ex-wife, found that out to his cost.
Following the end of his 12-year marriage, the businessman was ordered to pay his ex-wife a £5 million lump sum. Until that debt was satisfied in full, he was required to pay her £8,000 a month in maintenance. He had, however, made no such payments for almost a year and was a total of £88,000 in arrears. In those circumstances, the wife’s lawyers sought his committal to prison for contempt of court.
In finding that he had refused or neglected to pay his ex-wife maintenance, the High Court noted that he had, during the relevant period, bought a country house for £4.3 million and spent lavishly on wedding ceremonies in England and Morocco. His bank records revealed payments into his account of more than £40,000 a month. In the circumstances, the Court was in no doubt that he could have paid his ex-wife the maintenance due to her had he chosen to do so.
Noting that an immediate term of imprisonment was likely to have a serious impact on the man’s business, and might sour his and his ex-wife’s relationship with their two children, the Court agreed to stay its hand. Sentencing was adjourned for six months, but the businessman was warned that, if he failed to clear the maintenance arrears before then, he would be at risk of losing his liberty.