Court orders have to be obeyed and those who defy them can ultimately be sent to prison. Exactly that happened in one 'big money' divorce case in which an 83-year-old businessman repeatedly tried to thwart his ex-wife.
Following the end of the former couple's 23-year marriage, the wife was awarded cash and assets, together worth £3.5 million, from a matrimonial pot totalling £9.4 million. The husband was, amongst other things, ordered to transfer to her his 100 per cent shareholding in a property company worth £1.6 million.
Following that transfer, the wife obtained a possession order to enable her to gain access to the company's premises. On taking possession, however, she discovered that they had been stripped of almost all the documents and records that she would require to run the company effectively.
The husband had twice been ordered to reveal the whereabouts of the missing material and arrange its delivery to the wife. However, he failed to comply with those orders in full and a family judge ultimately sentenced him to 14 months' imprisonment for contempt of court.
Over £500,000 had been spent on legal costs during the divorce proceedings and the judge noted that the once proud and canny businessman had been transformed into an isolated and sad shadow of his former self. Although it was undesirable to jail an elderly man in declining health, he had been motivated by a desire to display his resentment towards his ex-wife and had shown no remorse. After the man launched a challenge to the judge's decision before the Court of Appeal, a stay of execution was granted.
However, in dismissing his appeal and lifting the stay, the Court noted that he had no right to retain the material and his ex-wife was seeking no more than she was entitled to as the company's sole director and shareholder. He did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of what he had done and had made no apology or expression of regret. The judge's ruling was meticulous and the sentence imposed was manifestly justified.