The past two or so years have seen a stream of litigation cases arising from divorces. Very often, the problems arise when one party to the divorce (usually the wealthier partner) is seen by the Court as not engaging with Court process, usually by not complying with Court orders. The recent English case of Hope v Krejci is another example of this trend, but with more severe consequences than most for the non-complying party.
The most recent decision in that matter concerned the wife’s attempts to obtain assets which the Court had ordered be transferred to her. The wife was at one stage the beneficiary of the family trust, The Krejci Family Trust. In the course of the divorce proceedings, she was excluded from the class of beneficiaries. The family trust was the 100% owner of Damsonetti Holdings Limited. Damsonetti in turn owned three motor vehicles. The trust was varied by the Court and the husband was ordered to transfer these vehicles to the wife (on the basis of a finding that the trust property was in effect all the husband’s property), but he failed to do so and was thus in breach of the order.
The husband’s conduct in the litigation was heavily criticised by numerous judges. One judge described it as “truly abysmal” and “frankly appalling“.
In light of the failure to transfer the three vehicles, the wife applied to have the husband committed for contempt of court. The husband continued to fight his corner. He claimed that two of the vehicles had been taken to the Czech Republic and the Ukraine respectively. He also claimed that one of those vehicles was not in fact owned by him, but by a well-known tennis player. The third vehicle was said to have been scrapped, but the husband was not able to adequately explain why – if this was the case – he continued to make filings in relation to the vehicle with the relevant British government agency.
The judge found in relation to all three vehicles, that the husband had failed to transfer the vehicles or (where appropriate) make any effort to retrieve them. Accordingly, he found the husband to be in contempt and sentenced him to two months in prison. The period was relatively short as the estimated value of the three vehicles was only GBP16,000. However, the prison term was suspended for six weeks to give the husband the time to pay the sum of GBP 16,000 instead.
The case demonstrates the increasing tendency of the English courts to take a tough line against parties who it believes are not complying with court orders, despite having the means to do so. That said, although this trend will give hope to those trying to enforce their rights under such court orders, it can still be a long road.