Guidance on asset freezing orders in divorce cases

A family court judge who was recently enraged at a divorce case in which the wife had successfully blocked her husband from dealing with £30million of assets has issued guidance on the use of ex parte applications.

The guidance has been approved by the President of the Family Court Division, and was delivered as part of Mostyn J's judgment in the divorce case UL v BK. The wife had applied for the renewal of a freezing order which prevented her husband from dealing with a Spanish property and approximately £30million of assets. Aside from the fact that the wife had obtained financial information by raiding her husband's safe, the judge took issue with the wide scope of the freezing order that had been granted.

He criticised that:

  • the order did not clarify whether it applied to worldwide assets or only UK assets
  • no explanation was contained within the order as to why the husband wasn't made aware of the application
  • the husband was unable to use the assets for normal business purposes, or even to cover basic food costs
  • no provision for the payment of damages was made in the event of the husband suffering loss from being unable to manage his assets
  • the husband was not informed of his right to challenge the order

Attempting to clarify the use of ex parte freezing orders, Mostyn said:

  • Applications should only be made where there is exceptional urgency, such as an imminent court hearing
  • There must be an express reason for the lack of notice
  • There must be evidence of a 'solid risk' that the other party will dissipate the assets.
  • It should only be in 'very rare' cases that no notice is provided to the other party, and the court would need to be satisfied that it was acceptable for the respondent to have received no notice.
  • There should be an undertaking with regard to damages to the respondent and any affected third party.

If you require legal advice from a divorce solicitor in Northern Ireland in respect of any matter relating to a separation, such as the financial settlement, child custody, child maintenance, or any other issue, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 1363, or submit your details for a callback by clicking here.