Potentially yes, you could be sent to prison, if a family court decides your failure to provide these documents is serious enough to constitute contempt of court. This offence – meaning wilful defiance of a court’s authority – can result in a prison sentence.
A full disclosure of your financial situation is a vital part of the divorce process in any contested divorce – i.e., one which reaches court because the couple have been unable to agree a settlement between themselves. Without that crucial full disclosure, the courts cannot ensure the couple’s finances and other assets will be divided fairly.
Assets are declared in a standard document referred to as Form E. Each party completes this and doing so correctly is a legal requirement. Figures alone aren’t enough: supporting documents must also be included as evidence. Providing all the details required may take some time, especially if your financial situation is a complex one, so it can be tempting to cut corners or delay the process.
But failing to complete a Form E – or failing to complete one fully – can result in undesirable and expensive complications that will lower your standing with the court and increase the chances of the judge siding with your spouse in the dispute. The court may:
- Issue a court order requiring you to complete the Form E or provide missing documentary evidence or additional information.
- Conclude that you are untrustworthy and allocate an increased share of the assets to your estranged spouse.
- Make cost orders against you – i.e., require you to pay the full costs of a particular action.
In general, the family courts are reluctant to commit individuals to prison, but they will do so if the person’s conduct is considered particularly egregious – and repeatedly failing to comply with court orders will certainly fall into that category in most cases.
Do I need to complete a Form E if my divorce is not contested?
No, there is no legal requirement a Form E if you have reached a settlement after negotiating directly with your estranged husband or wife. However, in some cases, they may ask you complete one anyway and, in most cases, you should agree to this request. If you do not, your ex may well seek a financial settlement in court, with all the additional time expense that will entail – and of course, you will also then be legally obliged to complete a Form E.
What should I declare on my Form E?
Your Form E should be a complete declaration of all your financial situation at that time. You should include:
- Your income in its entirety.
- Your bank accounts.
- The value of your property and assets, along with any expected changes in that value (for example, the potential sale of a company).
- Your investments and insurance policies.
- Your pension entitlements.
- Your debts and liabilities
- Significant future expenditure.