What happens when a party fails to disclose their full wealth?

When a family court is considering making any sort of financial order it will of course require the parties to disclose full details of their means, so that the court can make an informed decision.

But what if one party fails to make full disclosure? What can the court do then?

One answer is to make adverse inferences about the non-disclosing party’s means.

The drawing of adverse inferences was seen in action in a recently published judgment of the High Court in London.

The judgment concerned financial remedy proceedings arising out of the parties’ divorce. Within the proceedings the wife was applying for maintenance pending a final hearing and a legal services payment order for the husband to contribute towards her legal costs.

But on the basis of the details of his means that the husband had disclosed it appeared that he could not afford to pay anything.

However, His Honour Judge Hess, hearing the case, was not satisfied by the disclosure that the husband had made. He found that it was obviously deficient, and this entitled him to make some “robust inferences” about the husband’s ability to pay.

There were a number of factors that led him to this conclusion, including:

1. The family had lived at a very high level for a long period of time, commensurate with a family which has a high level of financial resources. They lived in a very expensive house with a swimming pool, had expensive holidays, and at one time were even thinking of buying a £2.5 million yacht. The husband’s presentation of his finances did not begin to explain how this was afforded over a number of years. That fact alone, said Judge Hess, “causes the judicial eyebrow to be raised.”

2. The husband appeared to be deliberately blocking the disclosure process in relation to a trust whose assets, estimated to be worth at least £45 million,  may actually belong to the husband (or at least he may have access to them). This, said Judge Hess, was “a classic reason for a court to draw adverse inferences.”

3. There was an indication in the evidence that for many years the husband had taken large amounts of money from the trust to support the family. Judge Hess said that his “broad impression” was that the husband had been able to take what he wished at any stage at will, and had regularly done so.

In the light of these matters Judge Hess concluded that the husband was not a man of relative impecuniosity as he claimed, but was actually a man with access to substantial assets, quite possibly the whole of the £45 million worth of assets in the trust.

Judge Hess therefore ordered the husband to make various payments, including the £19,000 per month mortgage payments on the former matrimonial home (in which the parties were still living), the household outgoings of £5,782 per month, £7,500 per month maintenance for the wife and a legal services payment order in the total sum of £367,557.

You can read the full judgment here.

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