Essam Aly, a 54-year-old hospital consultant, has become the first man in the UK to be ordered to give all his UK assets - worth £550,000 - to his GP ex-wife. It raises the question of how it can be fair for one person to be cleaned out by a divorce.
There are number of specifics that had a major influence on this case. Aly, an anaesthetist who was living in Burton-on-Trent, left his wife Enas (46) and their two children in 2011. He moved to Bahrain in 2012, and has not paid any child maintenance or support to his family since. Given that he is beyond the reach of the British authorities, his ex-wife's lawyer argued that there was a good chance she would never see another penny from him.
The court agreed that given they were dealing with a 'serial defaulter", the family should receive all of the couple's assets - which amounted to £550,000. According to the Daily Mail, the judge said: "Looking to the future, there was no expectation that she could look to him for any future payment of maintenance and it was therefore necessary for her to achieve an award representing effectively most of the capital assets."
Essam appealed on the grounds of 'substantive unfairness'. His lawyer said that the initial ruling had not considered his needs, and added that he and his new wife wanted to move to the UK with their child, so the judge was not entitled to add up all future maintenance payments and award them in one go.
These arguments failed to hold sway with the appeal court. According to the Telegraph, the judges were convinced that by his actions to date, Essam had shown he was 'unwilling' to provide any support. They decided it was reasonable for the initial judge to have concluded that there was no realistic expectation of getting any further maintenance out of the husband, and to have put the children first when awarding the marital assets to their mother - their sole carer.
Carmel Brown, Solicitor at Thomas Eggar in the Private Client division said this decision was based on fairness rather than equality. She explained: "In this case, equality of division of assets was not the primary concern; the Lord Judge McFarlane had to give first consideration to the welfare of the children."
"There was no realistic expectation that the wife would receive any further maintenance from the husband, and the Court had to intervene and ensure that proper provision was made for the family."
The decision is so dependent on the specifics, that any divorcing couple where the father has a more responsible attitude to child maintenance is unlikely to face anything remotely similar.
However, this decision may offer food for thought for any absent parent who is trying to avoid responsibility for paying maintenance. Lawyers highlight that if the courts see no maintenance will be forthcoming, the absent parent is likely to have to lose more of their assets up-front.
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