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(Family Division, Moor J, 22 November 2013)
In long-running and heavily-contested financial remedy proceedings following a 17-year marriage, final judgment on the wife's claims was determined by Moor J after 7 years of litigation. The wife's litigation costs to date were £6.4m which had been increased by the complexity of the case and the husband's failure to provide full and frank disclosure, for which he had received a prison sentence at an earlier hearing.
The wife's case throughout had been that the husband was worth hundreds of millions of pounds and that she was entitled to half of his assets while the husband claimed he had suffered a financial meltdown and had lost a substantial proportion of his assets. He asserted that he was only able to support himself and provide interim maintenance for the wife and children through gifts and lending from friends, however, the question as to how he had lost all his assets remained unanswered.
The husband remained an undischarged bankrupt and, therefore, the court was precluded from making property adjustment orders but could make a lump sum order provided consideration was given to the level of debts.
While the husband was to be criticised substantially for his failure to comply with disclosure orders, the wife had also made a large number of applications to the court which was at the limits of what was appropriate in even this exceptional case.
The wife's evidence was unreliable and she had become utterly convinced that the husband was a liar who had hidden away vast resources. Her financial position was difficult: she was not working, was in receipt of housing benefit and was likely to find it difficult to earn anything other than modest sums. Her case was that she required £10m for housing costs plus £9.4m for maintenance on a Duxbury basis.
It was impossible to make findings as to the husband's specific assets and beneficial interests in properties and companies due to his failure to provide full disclosure, however, on the evidence available from forensic accountants on the balance of probabilities a figure of £45m was reasonable as to his position prior to the financial collapse. It was equally difficult to determine how much money the husband had lost but his lifestyle was not consistent with that of a penniless bankrupt. His debts were at best massively overstated by the husband. Analysing all the available evidence their total was £5m, although HMRC had stated they would accept £1.2m in full settlement. His net total assets were found to be £40m.
After full consideration of s 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 the wife was entitled to half of the assets which equated with her assessment of her reasonable needs. The husband was ordered to pay the wife £20m within 28 days. Interest would be accrued at 8% in the event he failed to pay. Arrears of the maintenance pending suit order were also ordered to be paid within 28 days.
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