The millionaire husband in a divorce dispute has been ordered not to pay his lawyers a pound without paying a pound to his wife’s solicitors, under a High Court ruling from Mr Justice Holman. The judge said it was “intolerable and an affront to justice” that the husband had been able to pay tens of thousands of pounds to his new solicitors “…when he was already in arrears and getting further into arrears with his wife and her very patient and long-suffering solicitors”.
The judge went further and lambasted the husband for his conduct and said the facts showed a “grave picture of non-compliance” by the husband, including delays in providing full and frank financial disclosure, breaches of earlier court orders and failing to make a series of interim payments to his wife. The wife’s financial position was precarious, as the arrears from the husband were substantial. Her husband owed her £100,000 in unpaid spousal maintenance and he had failed to settle her currently legal costs of £130,000 for her solicitors, as previously ordered. although it was accepted his assets totalled in excess of £30m, the husband said his assets were mainly “illiquid and unrealisable”, which was why he not been able to pay these outstanding sums. However, Mr Justice Holman noted that the husband had recently instructed a new firm of solicitors, providing them with £95,000 just a month before.
To remedy the issue, the wife asked the court to make an order that her husband pay her £100 for every £1 he paid to his own solicitors. The judge rejected this proposal, stating “the rationale of such an order must be that of an equal or level playing field” and that a debarring order was too extreme a sanction.”. Instead, Mr Justice Holman ordered that the husband would be disallowed from paying any further money to a lawyer, unless he paid an equal amount (i.e. pound for pound) to his wife’s solicitors towards settlement of the outstanding arrears.
The judge was quick to preempt an argument that this order denied the husband the ability to obtain independent legal advice. Holman J said, “As far as I am concerned, [the husband] can go straight out and pay…for further legal advice, the only condition is that he also pays pound for pound…to the wife’s solicitors.”
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