By Gianna Huesch
Law reformers in the UK are debating whether new laws are required to give judges the power to confiscate passports or impose year-long driving bans on ex-spouses who don’t fulfil court-ordered payments after divorce.
More than 90,000 “family financial orders” are made in England and Wales annually, in three out of four divorce matters. The debate has centred on what penalties should be given to divorced spouses who don’t make settlement payments as ordered by courts. The report notes:
“As the orders are made by the court to meet needs, non-compliance can have a devastating impact. Rent or mortgage payments may be missed; basic necessities may become unaffordable; children’s standard of living may be affected.”
At present, there is no easy way to enforce payment. Ex-spouses can ask for a non-paying former partner to receive a prison sentence, but this has been rarely enforced as the courts need to meet a criminal standard of proof before they will send a financially-recalcitrant divorcee to jail.
The recommendations in the new report from the Law Commission include the suggested penalties of a 12 month driving bans and confiscation of passports. Spouses who have not been paid (who are usually women) would apply to the court for orders imposing the driving and/or travel bans. If payments are subsequently made, the ex-spouse’s licence and passport would be returned.
The aim is to give judges the powers required “to ensure that those who can pay, but choose not to, comply with court orders.” Critics however say driving bans may affects someone’s ability to work and therefore their ability to pay.
Other suggested ideas included curfews and electronic tagging, but these were rejected by reformers as too expensive to enforce, as well as too greatly criminalising the non-paying behaviour of ex-spouses. Travel and driving bans are seen as a better solution as they exert pressure by affecting the ex-spouse’s lifestyle.
The law reform proposals also argue courts need powers to obtain information on the real wealth of spouses who don’t pay up, through access to bank accounts and tax records.
Do you need assistance with your divorce or other family law matter? Please contact Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.