The former director of a software company has won his appeal against a suspended prison sentence after failing to pay his ex-wife court-ordered maintenance. The couple were married for 25 years and separated in 2013.
The husband was successful and they lived a prosperous lifestyle however they also spent extravagantly. By the time the case came before the court significant debts were accumulating and the parties’ assets were no longer sufficient to meet both parties’ needs.
The wife was a former stay-at-home mother who gave up her career years before and had little earning capacity. As a result, and as priority was given to housing the couple’s children, the wife was awarded most of the remaining funds (£500,000) whereas the husband received £66,000.
The husband was also ordered to pay the wife £2,000 per month in maintenance and received a six week suspended prison sentence after failing to do so. At the husband’s appeal of this prison sentence his barrister stated that the husband had not deliberately neglected to pay maintenance, his company had gone into administration, he was evicted from his flat, relying on the charity of his new partner and that he was ‘homeless, insolvent and unable to meet his obligations’. The husband’s barrister then went on to argue that threatening the husband with a prison sentence over the unpaid maintenance was a ‘curious survivor’ of the Victorian era of debtors’ prisons which violated his human rights and is ‘not in keeping with the modern view that husbands and wives approach this court on an equal footing’.
Following these arguments the wife’s barrister announced that they would accept the dismissal of the prison sentence however the wife was still opposed to the proposed clean break on the basis that there is a ‘complete absence of clarity’ about the husband’s income, due to ‘contradictory statements and complete lack of disclosure’.
The Judges have reserved judgment and will give the ruling at a later date. Without a clean break, the wife could again seek to enforce the debt, putting him at risk of a prison sentence once more.
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics have revealed that in England and Wales there were 23.8 million people married in 2015. This was 50.6% of the population aged 16 and over. In 2002 the married people amounted to 54.8% of the population aged 16 and over.
There were 28.4 million people living in a couple in 2015 and this was 60.5% of the population aged 16 and over. There has been a steady increase in people cohabiting who are never married which has increased from 6.8% in 2002 to 9.5% in 2015, it is thought that this is due to cohabitation being more common as an alternative to marriage, especially at a younger age.
Parental alienation is used to describe the phenomenon where one parent poisons their child against the other parent upon separation. Parental alienation is a phrase which is becoming increasingly used to describe particular Family Law cases despite the fact that parental alienation syndrome is not recognised in the DMS (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) or by the World Health Organisation.
There has been a resistance in the lower courts to even consider that parental alienation may be real, however, other countries, such as Canada and the USA, identify it and ‘parenting coordinators’ are ordered and supervised by the Family courts to help restore relationships with parents and children identified as alienated. In Mexico and Brazil, alienating a child from a parent is a criminal act.
The higher courts are recognising the issue, as in the case of H (Children)  EWCA Civ 733, a case where the Judge transferred residence to re-establish a relationship between a child and an alienated parent, the Judge referred to comments another Judge made in a previous case in her summary:
‘I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional…’
Given the fact parental alienation has become a feature of the majority of difficult family breakdowns CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is going to offer targeted support for those affected following a government-funded intensive therapeutic pilot programme. The pilot aims to create an ‘alliance’ between both parents in which they can support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
The assistant director of CAFCASS, Sarah Parsons, has stated:
‘Parental alienation is responsible for around 80% of the most intransigent cases that come before the family courts…We already train our social workers to recognise the issue, but this takes helping families experiencing it one step further’
This is a highly emotional area of family law for the entire family. It is essential to seek advice early, if possible at the time of separation as early decisions may affect how things turn out later on. Consulting our specialist lawyers in our Altrincham or Manchester offices is a great first step. We can talk you through your options and help you to decide what is the best way to proceed. Please contact us on 0161 927 3118 for a free 20 minute consultation.
Christina Estrada, 54, sought £238 million from her former husband Sheikh Walid Juffali, 61. The parties had been married for 13 years and have one daughter together. According to the Guardian, Ms Estrada had claimed that she required £1 million a year for clothes, including £40,000 for fur coats, £109,000 for haute couture dresses and £21,000 for shoes. The total settlement of £75 million included a cash payment of £53 million.
Ms Estrada is a US citizen who has been in the UK since 1988. Mr Juffali divorced Ms Estrada in Saudi Arabia in 2014 under Islamic law, without her knowledge. In 2012, Mr Juffali married a 25 year old Lebanese model, mother of his two youngest children, whilst still married to Ms Estrada. In Saudia Arabia, Muslim men are permitted to have more than one wife.
Ms Estrada had to obtain permission from the Court under part 3 of the 1984 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act to apply for financial relief in England, as she could not bring a case in Saudi Arabia. Mr Juffali had tried to use his status as a diplomat to avoid any divorce proceedings in England however this defence was rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal confirmed that Mr Juffali’s permanent residence in the UK prevented him from using this defence and avoiding such protection against his former wife’s financial claims.
Following the hearing Ms Estrada said: ‘I am very grateful for today’s ruling. I have lived in the United Kingdom since 1988 and am thankful for access to the British courts. I never wanted to be here. I always wanted to resolve the matter amicably. This process has been incredibly bruising and distressing. Walid and I were happily married for 12 years and have a beautiful daughter together. He both took a second wife and divorced me without my knowledge…His use of diplomatic immunity to try and prevent me from access to a legally binding settlement set a worrying precedent’
London has a well-established reputation as the one of the ‘divorce capitals’ of the world with a legal system which is said to be more generous to the ‘poorer’ spouse than in many other countries. This case reaffirms the fact it is becoming increasingly common for spouses resident in other countries to relocate to England and seek out the English courts to divorce their former husband/wife or to apply for financial relief.
In order to bring a claim under part 3 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceeding Act 1984, as Ms Estrada did, you need to have a valid marriage, a divorce with judicial involvement and you must also meet the jurisdictional requirements to bring a claim in the English courts. If you have married or currently live abroad and are interested in discussing your options further please contact a member of our team for more advice.
Now that the dust seems to have settled on Brexit, what we are left with is what Michael Heseltine recently referred to as a ‘dark cloud’. This dark cloud is filled with uncertainty not just concerning politics and economics but also our laws.
Family law is one area that could see significant changes in the coming years when EU laws will need to be replaced. While the cross border elements of family law will inevitably see changes, so too will cases involving exclusively UK nationals.
The risk in all of this is that there will be holes left if amendments and new domestic legislation is not made in time, once the UK government gives formal notice of its intention to leave the EU.
Things may get particularly complex for the many relationships and marriages between UK nationals and EU citizens. Then there will be the issue of settlements and how volatility in the financial markets might impact on the fairness of those settlements.
While Brexit presents challenges there might also be opportunities for the reform of existing laws imposed by the EU. Some EU laws currently impose regulations that have a major impact on UK laws when it comes to jurisdiction and enforcement of any decisions.
Few married couples making the decision to emigrate to another country are secretly considering the possibility that it will all end in divorce which is why so many get caught out when it happens.
While living abroad can represent a new start for a family and a chance to experience a better standard of living, if there are tensions within a marriage, better weather and the excitement of living in a different country can soon wear off.
The biggest issues that can arise from divorce when living abroad can include spousal maintenance or lack of it. In this post-Brexit era in particular there are already concerns that divorce settlements may be affected by volatility in the financial markets.
There are also problems that might arise with pensions. In some cases a wife may need to prove that she is domiciled in the UK in order to gain a share of that pension. Who gets what in these cases depends on jurisdiction and where the couple was living at the time divorce proceedings started.
If you would like to receive advice on the implications of divorce while living overseas, out experts can help ensure that you achieve the best possible outcomes in your particular case.