Article written by Aishat Balogun, Solicitor, Family department
Some divorcees have been known to “drag their feet” in a misguided attempt to put off the hour when they must divide their assets with their ex-partners. However, a case involving a husband who caused significant delay when he asserted that he had COVID-19 showed that Family Judges are well placed to detect and deal with such behaviour.
Ruling on the financial aspects of the respondent’s divorce, the Judge found it highly likely that he had engaged in various delaying tactics with the aim of doing all he could to prolong the litigation and make it as difficult as possible for his ex-wife to bring the matter to a final conclusion.
The most egregious example occurred when he stated on the eve of the final hearing that he had taken a positive lateral flow test for COVID-19 and was not well enough to attend remotely. The Judge had no option but to adjourn the hearing, at substantial cost to the applicant.
After she raised suspicions, the husband was ordered to undergo a PCR test, which came back negative. He continued to insist that he was very poorly at the time, but the Judge was satisfied on the evidence that he did not have COVID-19 and that he could have attended the hearing.
The Judge commented that his actions in failing to attend the hearing fitted with his modus operandi throughout the proceedings. He was not satisfied that the man’s stated health position was correct. The information that had been provided to the court was fully self-serving and had been contradicted by the PCR test.
According to the Judge, the respondent had failed to comply with court orders and deliberately protracted the proceedings by orchestrating the adjourned hearing. To mark his litigation conduct, the Judge took the rare step of ordering him to contribute £4,000 towards the legal costs incurred by the wife in preparing for the adjourned hearing.
The marital assets had been eroded by the legal costs of the proceedings and were, at most, only just sufficient to meet the former couple’s needs. The Judge directed a division of those assets with a view to achieving a clean break between them.