Thursfield v Thursfield: "A stark warning to husbands who defy the courts"

Birmingham Civil Justice Centre
The Daily Mail ran a report yesterday that a tycoon has made "legal history", as he was jailed for two years for hiding money from his former wife in a divorce battle.

The case was, in fact, heard by His Honour Judge Purle QC in the High Court in Birmingham on the 9th of November: Thursfield v Thursfield [2012] EWHC 3621 (Ch). It involved an application by the wife for committal for contempt, in proceedings relating to the enforcement of a divorce judgment made in Michigan.

In December 2011 Judge Purle had made an order requiring the husband to make certain specified disclosure. He failed to do so and the wife issued a committal application.

Essentially, the husband claimed that he had no assets, save for two pensions that he could not access, the substantial wealth that he had previously enjoyed having vanished. The wife suspected that he had hidden his assets behind his new wife or a trust of which that new wife is a beneficiary, thereby allowing him to carry on his former lifestyle without the need to comply with court orders.

Judge Purle found that the husband was in contempt of court, and that this was aggravated by his failure to attend court (he was said to have a "couldn't-care-less attitude" to orders of the court). Judge Purle considered that the punishment ought to be at the higher end of the scale. He therefore imposed the maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, twelve months as a punitive sentence and the other twelve "as a coercive measure in order to encourage full and prompt compliance hereafter".

The Mail says that lawyers have said that the prison sentence "will serve as a stark warning to husbands who defy the courts in an effort to stop their ex-partners sharing their riches".