Biggs divorce case starts, husband accused of 'dragging the chain' on $700k payout
A divorce case expected to be one of New Zealand's costliest started in Auckland with a barrister suggesting a businessman was dragging his heels on a $700,000 payment.
Former Otago couple Stephen "Tim" Biggs and Sophie Biggs married in 2011, but have been involved in divorce proceedings since 2016.
The Court of Appeal recently ordered Tim Biggs to pay $700,000 ''without delay'' after Sophie Biggs said she did not have enough money to finance the court battle.
"Despite letters, no payment has been received, so he's verging on contempt of court," Sophie Biggs' counsel Lady Deborah Chambers QC told the High Court in Auckland on Monday morning.
"Frankly Sir, there seems to be a dragging of the chain by Mr Biggs," Chambers told Justice Gerald Nation.
But Tim Biggs' counsel Jan McCartney QC said the funds will be made available.
Justice Nation said he was satisfied Tim Biggs was making plans and the $700,000 transfer also relied on co-operation from a bank.
Chambers said the husband and wife were once "a very glamorous couple leading a very enjoyable life around the world".
She said the pair had properties in US ski destination Aspen, Colorado, and surfing hotspot Noosa on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Sophie Biggs joined proceedings from Brisbane and Tim Biggs also joined by videolink from Australia.
Chambers warned it would be a "very complicated trial" involving the division of property.
But she did say the separated couple had shown an ability to work together, and recently were successful at getting one property on the market.
Chambers said only the unexpected disruption from coronavirus lockdowns scuppered the sale of the Closeburn property near Queenstown.
The court heard the couple started living together in Sydney in 2010, when Sophie Biggs was a stock broker and Tim Biggs was a trader.
They moved to Noosa and married there in 2011.
They had a child together but separated by November 2014 before reconciling, Chambers said.
The couple moved to Otago but then separated again.
Chambers said a witness would testify that the couple did try resolving differences without being adversarial.
'DRAGON GUARDING THE CAVE'
A trust is pivotal to the dispute.
"At the top of the pyramid, like a dragon guarding the cave, is the [family trust]. That trust effectively guards the ownership of the trust assets," Chambers said.
She said Tim Biggs almost exclusively controlled the relationship's income-producing assets.
Chambers claimed Tim Biggs was effectively telling Sophie Biggs she could not access funds in a trust even though she had contributed to the couple's wealth.
Sophie Biggs was owed about $220,500 maintenance, Chambers added.
A debt of $566,000 on Closeburn was the only debt in the property pool, Chambers said.
Tim Biggs' counsel has not yet addressed the court at length.
However, his lawyers have previously argued Sophie Biggs was incurring excessive legal fees.
And an earlier court decision noted Tim Biggs had already paid his ex-wife $400,000, which would have to be repaid after the sale of their luxury Otago home.
The civil proceeding at the High Court is expected to last three weeks.