Family Judges Won't Let Children Be Used as Pawns in Divorce Proceedings

Concerns that children may be used as pawns amidst the cut and thrust of divorce proceedings are often expressed by one side or the other. However, a High Court ruling in the context of a big money case showed that family judges are aware of such risks and adept at minimising them.

The case concerned a very rich couple who enjoyed an extraordinarily high standard of living during their marriage. The acrimony of their divorce was heightened when the husband made the deeply wounding discovery that he was not the biological father of the wife's son. To his credit, however, he continued to view the boy as his own and treated him in exactly the same way as before.

Following financial remedy proceedings, the husband was ordered to pay the wife a total of £64 million. He had since engaged in various legitimate attempts to vary or set aside the order and none of that sum had yet been paid. In the interim, he had continued to meet very substantial financial commitments to the wife, including the payment of £120,000 a month in maintenance.

The husband applied to the Court for permission to take the boy abroad with him, wishing to travel with him all over the world. The wife, however, wanted their contact to be restricted to England and Wales until such time as the husband paid or put on deposit the lump sum he had been ordered to pay her. She feared that, if permitted to take the boy overseas, the husband would use him as leverage to negotiate a reduced financial settlement.

Ruling on the matter, the Court well understood the wife's fears and completely sympathised with her. She felt deeply insecure whilst the divorce proceedings were in train and pointed out that the husband had the means to charter a private plane to anywhere in the world at any time. He responded that he had no intention whatsoever of retaining the boy abroad.

The Court noted that the husband could be dominating and controlling. He was likely to harbour some resentment against the wife and, if he failed to return the boy to her following a trip abroad, the consequences would be devastating. He would, however, have a great deal to lose from taking such a course and the risk of him doing so, whilst more than hypothetical, was small.

The husband was granted permission to travel with the boy to three named European countries where he owned property. As a condition of doing so, however, he was required to deposit with the Court shares worth £4 million, or their value, and to provide an additional bond or surety to the tune of a further £5 million. On pain of penal consequences, he was ordered to return the boy to his mother at the end of each overseas trip and was warned that his security would probably be held forfeit if he failed to do so.