A divorced husband has been ordered to pay his ex-wife’s legal costs. He had failed to persuade a family court to let him extend the due date of a sum of money he owed her.

The case concerned a consent order, or divorce settlement, agreed in December 2018. This required the husband to make a significant lump sum payment to his soon-to-be-former wife, with regular ‘periodical’ payments to be made in the meantime.

The payment was to be sourced from a mortgage on the husband’s home. The lump sum became due in June 2023 but the husband did not make the payment. After some back-and-forth correspondence, the former wife issued a claim for possession of the flat.

The husband then applied in court for a “variation of” (official change to) the due date for the payment. He later amended this application, seeking instead an extension on the due date by two years.

In October, a court ordered the husband to go ahead and surrender the flat to her, but he attempted to appeal this. The following month, his ex-wife applied to strike out his application. She argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the husband was attempting to undermine the possession order.

The husband’s application and the wife’s counter-application came before Simon Colton KC, sitting as a High Court Judge. He dismissed the husband’s application on the basis of precedent cases, explaining that granting it would go against a key principle of financial settlements:

“It is argued here that, in the context of a lump sum that was to be paid 4½ years after the [original consent] order, an extension of two years does not go to the heart of the order, and is therefore only “slight” or “modest” [and therefore within the jurisdiction of the courts] However, in my judgment, the order that is sought by the Husband goes beyond any “slight” or “modest” extension. A delay of two years is not “slight” or “modest“. To grant such a delay so undermines the principle of finality [in financial settlements], that it does go to the heart of the [original] order … the Variation Application, if successful, would significantly hinder the Wife’s ability to put the dispute behind her, both financially and emotionally.”

He continued:

“The Husband argues that the Wife does not need the money, and so would not be prejudiced [disadvantaged] by an extension of time. However, in circumstances where the Husband will not himself be left impecunious, that seems to me to be beside the point. A lack of finality, at some ongoing legal and emotional cost, constitutes prejudice, whether or not the Wife has an immediate need for the money that is due to her…In considering the merits of the application, I also bear in mind that the Husband is in arrears on the periodical payments he owes, and has not paid any part – even a small part – of the Lump Sum, nearly five months after it fell due.”

The judgement is available here.