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Husband committed to prison for failing to pay child maintenance

A judge was justified in committing a husband to prison for six weeks for breaching the child maintenance requirements set out in a divorce settlement.

That was the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of a couple who had divorced in 2013. The consent order provided for the couple’s properties in Monaco and Moscow to be transferred to the wife, with another property in Paris being held by the husband.

The order also provided for the husband to pay annual child maintenance. By late 2014, none of the properties had been transferred and arrears of child maintenance of £253,000 had accrued. The wife became aware that the husband had agreed to sell the Moscow property.

She applied to set aside the capital elements of the consent order. At a hearing on 2 March 2015, the judge ordered that the Moscow property should remain in the husband’s control and that the Paris property should be transferred to the wife and then sold.

The arrears of child maintenance were to be discharged using the proceeds of sale. At the hearing, the wife’s solicitors served the husband with a judgment summons under the Debtors Act 1869 in relation to the unpaid child maintenance.

The judge in the committal proceedings found that there had been a breach of the child maintenance requirement in the consent order, and that the husband had the funds to meet the order. He imposed a six-week prison sentence, suspended on terms that the husband complied with the requirements of the financial provision order relating to the Paris property by 27 March 2015.

The husband argued that the judge was wrong in concluding that he had the jurisdiction to vary the terms of the consent order.

The Court of Appeal, however, has upheld the decision. It held that at all times the husband had the means to pay the sum due under the order. Each case would turn on its own facts, but in this case, the suspended committal order was entirely justified and proportionate.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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