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It is inevitable that those in receipt of court orders often consider them to be unjust – but that is never an excuse for failing to obey them. The High Court made that point in imposing a suspended prison sentence on a recalcitrant divorcee who took it upon himself to reduce his child maintenance payments.
The man consented to a court order by which he was required to pay his ex-wife a lump sum of £13,500 to cover arrears of child maintenance that had already arisen. He also agreed to pay £1,150 in monthly maintenance for his eight-year-old daughter thereafter and to contribute £5,500 towards his ex-wife's legal costs. He had partially met those obligations, but had not paid the costs bill and had unilaterally decreased the amount of child maintenance, which had fallen more than £4,000 into arrears as a result.
Before the order was made, he had disclosed that he earned an income of more than £140,000 per annum in the banking sector and that he had more than £400,000 in total assets. He argued that he had since fallen on hard times, but the Court found that he had the funds to pay the sums due and had culpably neglected to do so.
The Court noted that the man had exhibited a profound misunderstanding of the nature of court orders. His reduction of the child maintenance payments to a level that he believed to be just was completely unacceptable and, if such behaviour were tolerated, it would strike at the very heart of the rule of law. The Court imposed a 14-day prison sentence, but suspended the term for 28 days to give the man an opportunity to pay all outstanding sums.