A recent family law case saw a husband and wife both decide to deal with their property settlement without engaging lawyers. The couple were struggling to deal with a complex financial situation, with multiple businesses and financial interests between them.
The wife needed access to financial documents relating to the husband’s businesses, which he refused to hand over. The husband claimed that he did not have access to the documents. Orders were made by the Judge to have the husband hand the documents to the wife by a specific date.
The date passed, and the documents were not handed over. The Judge made clear that he wanted the documents made available, and that he did not “have any hesitation in gaoling people for not complying with my Orders”. On hearing this, the wife made it clear to the Court that she did not want the husband to be sent to prison. She was concerned about the impact it would have on their children. When the husband again failed to provide the documents, the Judge told the husband “I hope you brought your toothbrush” and found him guilty of being in contempt of Court, and sentenced him to 12 months imprisonment.
The husband appealed the decision, this time with the assistance of a lawyer, and had to the sentence set aside. The sentence was described as a “gross miscarriage of justice”.
This case demonstrates the issues that can arise from a failure to engage with effective legal representation. Working with a competent lawyer reduces the risk that misunderstandings and poor choices occur.