A court has permitted the correction of an order which accidentally allowed a husband to stop making payments to his ex-wife.

The judgment of Mrs Justice Knowles in IC v RC examined the application of the ‘slip rule’ and whether the court should correct a mistaken order made two years before. It also discussed whether to grant leeway to a litigant in person who waited more than a year to make an application.

The court heard that the unnamed couple had separated in 2014 after almost 29 years of marriage, with the husband ordered to make monthly payments of £2,100. This order would apply until either party died, the wife remarried or the court made a further order.

The mistake came following the husband applying to vary the periodical payments in 2017. The county court agreed to reduce payments to £800 a month, and the wife’s counsel drafted the variation order and submitted it to the judge for approval. This order repeated that payments would cease upon the ‘applicant’s remarriage’, but failed to acknowledge that the applicant was now the husband and not the wife.

The husband remarried in February 2019 and informed his ex-wife that the court order allowed for payments to stop, prompting her to apply to correct the variation order based on the ‘slip rule’ – legal shorthand for the rule allowing the court at any time to correct an accidental slip in a judgment or order.

The county court agreed the erroneous order should have been corrected, but District Judge Wright said she was satisfied that what was written up was not what she intended, and that the order could be amended.

Mrs Justice Knowles sympathised with the husband but dismissed his appeal, saying the slip rule allowed an amendment at any stage, without which the wife would be deprived of her entitlement to periodical payments.

‘That represented a significant injustice to her and moreover did not reflect the court’s intention at the time of the 2017 hearing and order,’ added the judge. ‘Correction of accidental slips or omissions at any time is thus consistent with the interests of justice and the fair resolution of proceedings.’

She added that the husband, who was previously unrepresented, had applied late for permission to appeal. The fact that he was a litigant in person, the judge ruled, was not a good reason for failing to comply with the rules.