A 65-year-old woman faces joining her older brother behind bars after they stubbornly refused to obey family court orders in a vicious £9.4 million divorce row.
Property tycoon John Hart, 83, was locked up for failing to co-operate with his ex-wife following their split. A judge, describing the case as “ridiculous”, has now imposed a three-month jail term on Mr Hart’s sister Susan Byrne.
Judge Stephen Wildblood said Ms Byrne had acted out of “misplaced loyalty” to her older brother when refusing to follow court orders.
The businessman kept £5.9 million of the marital pot but was told to hand his share in Drakestown Properties Ltd, worth £1.6 million, to his former wife.
Mr Hart tried to thwart the order, and was jailed for 14 months in March.
At the High Court today, Judge Wildblood said he had been left with no option but to jail the “highly respectable and respected” Ms Byrne for contempt of court. “This is a ridiculous situation which is brought about by a steadfast refusal to obey court orders,” he said.
The sentence was stayed for 21 days pending an appeal. The divorce battle has cost nearly £1 million in legal bills.
The couple married in 1987 and had two children together. They lived in a £1.1 million five-bedroom gated residence in Wishaw, near Sutton Coldfield, with gym and home cinema, and had holiday homes in Miami and Spain. They were together for more than 20 years.
In 2015 Mrs Hart had to seek a possession order to force her ex-husband out of Drakestown’s offices, but he stripped it of its vital paperwork. Today the judge said his sister had also refused to hand Mrs Hart the documents she needs.
Family Court Orders in Australia
In a financial order, a court can order a person to do any of the following:
- pay money to another person by a certain time
- transfer or sell property,
- sign documents.
When a financial order is made, each person bound by the order must follow it.
If a person has refused to obey an order about property or financial support made under the Family Law Act 1975, you can apply to the court for an enforcement order.
The existing orders may provide for the document to be signed on behalf of the person refusing to sign (defaulting person) by an officer of the Court that made the order. If it does, you will need to notify the Court that made the original order to advise that the person has refused to sign the document/s and ask for the relevant officer to sign the document/s. An affidavit is usually required stating the facts.
Which court you apply to will depend on your case. The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are separate independent courts but share jurisdiction in all family law matters and you can apply to either court.
The Family Court deals with more complex matters. These may include, for example if the financial issues in your case involve multiple parties, valuation of complex interests in trust or corporate structures including minority interests, or complex issues concerning superannuation (for example valuation or matters of legal principle).
All other applications should be filed in the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court deals with less complex matters that are likely to be decided quickly.
What is the enforcement process to recover money in Family Law?
1. Obtaining information about the payer
If you are seeking to enforce the order, you may choose to first obtain information about the financial circumstances of the payer (person who has not paid the money). This can be done by one of the following:
- giving the payer written notice to provide a Financial Statement within 14 days
- applying to the Court for an order for the payer to disclose information or produce copies of documents relevant to the payer’s financial affairs.
Once you have sufficient information you can then apply to the court.
2. Apply to the court
You can apply to the Court, without notice to the payer, for an enforcement warrant. The enforcement warrant enables the nominated enforcement officer to seize and sell property of the payer to enforce the warrant.
Third Party Debt Notice
You can apply to the Court, without notice to the payer or the relevant third party debtor (for example, an employer of the payer), to issue a Third Party Debt Notice. This notice requires a person or organisation (the third party) who it is alleged owes money to the debtor to pay that money to you rather than the debtor (for example, it could be for be wages).
You may apply to the Court for an order that the payer attends an enforcement hearing. At the enforcement hearing the Court may make orders to enforce the original order including:
- sequestration of property, where the Court can order that a property be temporarily placed in the hands of a sequestrator who collects rents, takings or profits of a business or prevent persons from the entering the property and pay amounts owing to you under the initial order;
- receivership, where the Court can appoint a person as receiver of the payer’s income or property, who is then entitled to receive any income due to the payer and pay amounts owing to you under the initial order;
- other appropriate order/s.