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Business tycoon faces jail time after breaching court order

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I was interested to read a recent article in the press about the issues arising in a case involving Leila Hammoud and her ex-husband Talal Al Zawawi.

The parties were married for 12 years and separated in 2017, following which Ms Hammoud moved to London. Mr Al Zawawi obtained a divorce in Oman, however, Ms Hammoud made an application to the English Courts for a financial remedy order. This is permissible under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, which allows a party to a marriage to apply for a financial order following an overseas divorce. The court can make largely the same financial orders as they would have been able to if the divorce proceedings had been conducted in England and Wales, but the applicant needs the court’s permission to proceed. That permission depends upon the applicant establishing domicile, 1 year’s habitual residence, or the existence of a matrimonial home within England and Wales, and being able to show that there are substantial grounds for the making of an order.

It is not intended to provide a “second bite of the cherry”, but to overcome financial hardship when the laws of the country that dealt with the divorce make no, or inadequate, financial provision for one party (it being recognised that financial settlements for wives on divorce in many countries is very poor). Any order that the court makes for financial provision must take into account the welfare of the children, not be more than they would have received if they were divorced in England, and provide for the reasonable needs of each spouse. The court, therefore, has a very wide discretion as to what order should be made.

Ms Hammoud’s application was based on the fact that the Omani’s laws made no provision for her to receive anything on divorce and permission was therefore granted.

That application has sparked a protracted legal battle in which Mr Al Zawawi appears to be a very reluctant participant. Ms Hammoud reportedly described the parties as having enjoyed a highly luxurious lifestyle, including what was described as a palace in Muscat, as well as a home in London. Mr Al Zawawi is said to have substantial business interests inherited from his father. During the proceedings, he claimed that he was only worth around £34 million and that his assets were illiquid and unrealisable, but the court found that his business assets were worth around £300 million and last month made an order that he pay Ms Hammoud £25 million.

However, Mr Al Zawawi has not paid this, and has reportedly not complied with other court orders. One such order was for him to provide full disclosure of his financial circumstances in May 2018. He failed to do so, and so the court found him in contempt last month and gave him a prison sentence of 3 months, but suspended for 7 days to allow him a further opportunity to comply. He did not comply, and so the Judge has issued a warrant for his imprisonment. Mr Al Zawawi is currently in Oman, but would be arrested and jailed if he were to set foot in the UK.

Cases where one party refuses to co-operate and comply with court orders are not confined to the wealthy. These cases can cause significant difficulty and frustration, as the court must grapple with the issues  to ensure a fair and just outcome for all parties. When dealing with financial order applications, both parties are under an ongoing obligation to provide full and frank financial disclosure. If they fail to do so, the defaulting party is likely to face a penal notice and then committal proceedings for contempt of court and substantial costs orders. It is also likely to result in the court being invited to make inferences as to assets that are available. This will usually err in favour of the party who is complying with the court procedure, and therefore result in an outcome which is less favourable than the defaulting party might otherwise have achieved, and with the additional risk of further claims being made in future.

Please contact us if you have been involved in any of the following;

  • an overseas divorce, and want to explore whether a financial claim can be brought in England
  • have separated in circumstances where you and/or your ex-partner have ties with other countries
  • have separated and financial matters need to be addressed, but are concerned that your ex-partner will not co-operate.

Our specialist divorce and separation lawyers offer a free, no obligation 15 minute chat to discuss how we can help you. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217305 or Alternatively, complete our online enquiry form.

Karen Johnson is a family solicitor and Resolution Accredited Specialist in relation to domestic abuse and complex financial issues.