When seeking to enforce an order for payment of money one solution rarely sought within family proceedings is the appointment of a receiver. It is an ancient remedy, originally based in equity and now found in s.37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Invariably the costs of such an appointment make it an unattractive option in comparison to the straightforward solutions such as seeking an order for attachment of earnings or a charging order. A receiver is usually an accountant charging a high hourly rate that might easily render the remedy disproportionate. The recent case of Maughan v Wilmot [2014] EWHC 1288 (Fam) was a reminder however that in cases where the default has been extreme and the arrears are significant the court’s power to appoint a receiver is a useful weapon in the arsenal of the family court.

Case summary

The parties had been separated for a long time when the “wife” brought an application in the High Court for the appointment of a receiver to recover £74,000 in child maintenance arrears and costs estimated at £66,000. In addition the wife sought a civil restraint order under FPR 2010 rule 4.8 to prevent the “husband” pursuing vexatious litigation and also for the existing freezing order to be extended.  

The husband sought an adjournment, for the freezing order to be struck out and for the other applications to be suspended. He was unsuccessful on each application.

Mr Justice Mostyn noted that appointment of a receiver is usually a course of last resort due to the costs involved. In this case though the husband’s default was “extreme” and it was clear he had in the past, and would continue in the future, to put “every conceivable obstacle in the way to frustrate implementation of the court’s order”. The judge was satisfied that the husband had been guilty of extreme defiance in respect of the order for child maintenance and a receiver was duly appointed. Two possible receivers were proposed, with the wife preferring the more experienced, albeit more expensive, accountant. The judge approved the wife’s choice.

The freezing order, logically, was extended to cover the period of the receivership, estimated at 12 months, in order to assist the receiver in satisfying the judgment.

In respect of the civil restraint order the judge observed that there had been 8 applications made by the husband which the court deemed to be totally without merit since January 2012. The order was granted.

Conclusion

Appointing a receiver is unlikely to be the proportionate solution in the vast majority of cases. It is worth remembering however that in extreme cases involving significant arrears and a particularly obstructive payer this is a method available to the family court for enforcement of an order.