Thinking about breaching an Order of the Court? Think again!

Following on from our article “Divorce – could I be sent to prison?” dated 1st March 2013, it has recently been reported that the former wife of multimillionaire Michael Prest asked the High Court to send her former husband to prison for failing to pay the divorce settlement due to her.

In 2011, Michael Prest was ordered to pay his former wife, Yasmin Prest, a lump sum of £17.5 million as well as £300,000 in annual maintenance payments for her and their four children.  The decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, but then successfully appealed by Ms Prest at the Supreme Court.

Mr Prest challenged the arrears due, arguing that he had paid significant other contributions towards the children and to his former wife’s household staff.  He also claimed that he had ceased trading in the oil business.  Ms Prest’s position was that Mr Prest was not complying with the terms of the Order that had been made, and she drew the court’s attention to several expensive holidays he had taken while failing to pay maintenance.

High Court Judge, Mr Justice Moylan, said that he was satisfied that Mr Prest had the means to pay maintenance but had refused or neglected to do so.  He ordered a 4-week custodial sentence, but suspended it for three months.

What is clear from these proceedings is that obtaining a Court Order in your favour can be only half the battle, particularly when there is ongoing maintenance.  If a paying party fails to comply with an Order of the court, enforcement proceedings will no doubt have to be commenced, and this process can be costly and time-consuming.  If the paying party’s financial circumstances change and he or she can no longer maintain the level of payments ordered, the appropriate way forward is to make an application to the court for a downwards variation of the maintenance Order, so that the court can reconsider the issue.

The message being sent out by the courts is that failure to comply with an Order of the court will not be tolerated, and if you are found to be in contempt of court, this may lead to a prison sentence.

For further advice on family or divorce matters, please contact:
Tanya Jamal, Associate Solicitor
01923 725 5015