A (former wife) v A (former husband)  EWFC 412 January 2023
Published: 31/01/2023 09:00
Recorder Laura Moys. Helpful approach to case management with exceptionally difficult LiP.
W was 57, H 59. They separated after 30 years of marriage, producing one child (now aged 30). The assets were worth £1.3m. W was a manager at her local county council earning c.£40k pa. H had been earning in excess of £100k pa as a hospital consultant. He was unemployed at trial, but retained an earning capacity. Despite being a ‘straightforward case’, the husband’s conduct had caused ‘costly, protracted, and acrimonious litigation’. Over three days, the judge finely balanced both parties’ right to a fair trial and the importance of PD 3AA (governing vulnerable witnesses and their giving evidence).
The extent of H’s poor and unreasonable behaviour features heavily over the course of over 170 paragraphs of this understandably thorough judgment. It included, but was by no means limited to:
- Holding a wholly unreasonable position in the litigation: him arguing that all the assets, owned jointly or by W in her sole name be transferred to him, that a pension sharing order be made in his favour and that W pay him spousal maintenance for joint lives. H argued W’s needs would be met by reconciling and he was the sole contributor to the family finances throughout the marriage.
- Angry outbursts, shouting over counsel and the judge. This including accusing the court of being corrupt and racist. When the judge placed H on mute, he would write offensive comments aimed at the judge on post-it notes. His camera was then turned off to allow W to give evidence. He would switch it on again, defeating what was intended to mimic the giving of evidence behind a physical screen. The judge enforced a short break, but when H’s behaviour remained unabated, he was removed the hearing which proceeded in his absence. The judge then had a note of the applicant's answers given to the respondent so he could digest the answers and write follow up questions for the judge to relay.
- Obvious and demonstrable untruths in his evidence. Even when faced with irrefutable evidence in cross-examination, H would remain untruthful.
- Contacting the trial judge, and those involved earlier in proceedings, directly to make further allegations of, amongst other things, racial discrimination, abuse, defamation and dishonesty.
In terms of distribution, the judge found the parties to have equal housing and income needs and thus the matrimonial assets were divided broadly equally. A slight departure in W’s favour was justified to reflect an earlier costs order made against H and the non-matrimonial nature of some jewellery belonging to W in H’s possession.
Costs were obviously relevant given H’s conduct. W’s costs were £58k. H’s contribution was summarily assessed at £30k (inc VAT).
Post-script, the judge found that:
‘there is considerable public interest in being able to read about the process of the financial remedy court … and in having an accurate understanding of how financial remedy cases are decided … [especially] where the respondent has taken and threatened to take unilateral steps to influence public opinion in a partisan and inaccurate way.’