For years one of the most frustrating parts of being a family lawyer is the role of enforcement. This could be enforcement of a contact order, a maintenance order or sale of a property, there are many other types but perhaps the one which winds up a disputing couple the most is often “non disclosure”.
When couples are together or married they are often aware of accounts or details of financial transactions that the other has an interest in. It may be part and parcel of daily life for a period of time, particularly during happy times within the relationship. But then it all turns sour and the accounts are hidden, the documents disappear and the burden of proof increases and us lawyers get the blame for the high levels of costs.
We have a process known as “disclosure” in financial proceedings arising from a divorce. This is to ensure that all parties including lawyers know what is in the “pot” and available for distribution. It covers incomes, capital, pensions, business interests and trusts. A complete financial picture for each party.
It is required for all of the dispute resolution methods such as mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and court litigation. With some of thee methods the requirements may be a little more relaxed with the agreement of the parties.
For some individuals the stakes may be high and the way in which the evidence is presented to the other party or the court can influence negotiations, such as a low business or property valuation and there may be a reluctance for some to disclose their resources.
Whilst this strategy may have perceived advantages in delaying proceedings or succeeding in hiding assets or making it too costly for the other to pursue, it can be high risk as Judges can make inferences against the individual if there is sufficient evidence.
However the recent case of Young v Young  EWHC 34 (Fam) saw Mr Justice Moor send Mr Young to prison for 6 months for not providing disclosure. Mr Young had been given ample opportunity by the courts over a number of years to supply the disclosure but when it was not produced or that which was produced was described as “next to useless”, Mr Justice Moor decided that he was in contempt of court.
This is an extreme case where Mr Young claims that he was penniless and a bankrupt, whereas Mrs Young said he was a wealthy man with assets of up to £400m. The Judge said that there had been a “flagrant and deliberate contempt over a very long period” Mr Young had failed to provide basic information such as income details between 2006-2012.
Usually the judges will make other often more effective enforcement sanctions such as costs orders or third-party disclosure orders but this case is a reminder the court will not tolerate contempt.