Distance is no obstacle to the powers of the English divorce courts, as a recent case shows.
The judge came down hard on a Singapore-based businessman who first told his ex-wife that she was entitled to more than €2 million from the sale of company shares – before seeking to reduce that figure a few months later to just €100.
The financial fall-out from the couple's divorce appeared to have been settled as long ago as 2009 when they signed a consent order. However, the wife, who lives in England, was still due potentially very large sums under that order, including a quarter of the sale proceeds of the shares in a company.
The husband had emailed her with the news that she was entitled to in excess of €2 million from the share sale. Within a few months, however, he contacted her again to inform her that she was due just €100. The High Court noted that the 'vast divergence' between the two figures put forward by the husband was 'a matter of some surprise, indeed astonishment'.
The wife had obtained an emergency order freezing the husband's UK assets and requiring him to provide disclosure of all documents relating to the transaction and the destination of any proceeds. In confirming and extending that order, the Court observed that the husband had, to date, 'not supplied one single document' in obedience to it.
The husband had described it as 'a complicated matter' and, given his foreign residency, had questioned the jurisdiction of the English courts to deal with the matter. He expressed a belief that he 'had the right' to withhold the documents; however, the Court found that those arguments were 'frankly nonsense' and 'completely misconceived'.
The Court extended the freezing order to cover funds believed to be held by the husband in a law firm's client account and to books in the library of the former marital home which were believed to have considerable value. Emphasising that the husband 'must comply' with the order, the judge added, "Patently, there needs to be some resolution of this 'complicated matter'.
"The husband needs firmly to appreciate that, in the absence of any convincing documentary material and explanations from him, there is a likelihood, to put it no higher, that the Court will place significant reliance on what he himself had told the wife as recently as last July she might expect to receive." The Court gave directions for a further hearing at which the sums still owed by the husband to the wife under the 2009 consent order will be finally assessed.