Divorce – Full and Frank Disclosure
There has been quite extensive media coverage relating to the divorce of millionaire property developer Scot Young and his wife Michelle. Michelle Young claims that her husband has a substantial fortune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Scot Young’s case is that he has lost all of his money and that he is effectively bankrupt and that he financially supported by friends. The courts have been trying to get the bottom of who is telling the truth and various court orders have been made for Mr Young to provide documents which demonstrate how he has lost all of his money. So far, Mr Young has failed to provide enough documentation to satisfy the judges and he was already subject to a suspended prison sentence when last month he was jailed for six months.
The judge said that Mr Young was in “flagrant” contempt of court and described Mr Young’s reasons for not obeying the court orders as “absurd” and “next to useless”.
Mr Young insisted that he had done “everything in his power” to obey the orders. He claims that he is bankrupt and cannot pay the £27,500 a month in maintenance ordered by a judge in 2009.
This ruling is generally welcomed by divorce lawyers and wronged spouses alike. Over recent years, there has been a movement in the legal system generally to ensure that family law is in line with civil law. The decision to jail Scot Young clearly shows that if you defy decisions made by the court, you risk going to prison – even in a divorce case.
Very few cases involve the amount of money that the Young case does so how, if at all, does this case help other people who are going through the court process and trying to sort out their finances as part of their divorce?
Whenever there are financial issues involved in a divorce, the first stage is for each party to provide “full and frank disclosure” of their financial circumstances. This is a concept which has been in place for many years. The theory is that a both people involved in the case need to know how much is in the matrimonial “pot” before the pot can be divided fairly. Imagine if your husband or wife had a bank account with £1,000,000 in it that you did not know about – disclosure of this account could make a big difference to the division of the other assets. Non disclosure would mean that the other assets might not be divided fairly.
The same rules regarding financial disclosure apply regardless of the value of the assets involved. If anybody involved in legal proceedings does not comply with a court order then they can be found “in contempt of court”. There are various punishments for being found in contempt and these range from a fine or a suspended sentence to committal to prison.
If you find yourself involved in a court case where the other person is not complying with orders made by the court then you can think about applying to have that person found in contempt and ask for them to be sent to prison. The courts are usually reluctant to send people to prison for a first contempt and in these circumstances a suspended sentence or fine might be imposed. However the cost of making this kind of application to the court can be considerable so you will need to think carefully about how much you are spending and what the benefit to you will be.
Most family law solicitors will try to resolve matters amicably by negotiation where possible and court proceedings are generally seen as a last resort. However, there will always be cases where there is no other effective alternative. You can contact any of our family law solicitors to discuss the various options open to you in dealing with your divorce finances as cost effectively as possible.