The Supreme Court has ruled that two women can re-open their matrimonial financial claims against their ex-husbands even though they had earlier agreed settlements as a result of non-disclosure, fraud or misrepresentation of the value of their assets.
“These are very important cases for husbands and wives alike,” explains Neil Denny, specialist divorce lawyer with Diane Genders Solicitors in Lincoln. “It makes it clear that the wealthier spouse cannot get away with hiding assets or misleading the court about their true value.”
In the Sharland case the husband had a substantial interest in an phone app company. At the time of the court hearing he argued that there were no plans to float the company. The wife agreed to a settlement on that basis. Unfortunately, before the agreement could even be written up and sealed as a court order, the industry press had started to report that the company was “Being prepared” to be offered to investors and at a much higher valuation than that suggested within the court proceedings.
Mrs Sharland objected and asked the court to not force her to honour the earlier agreement.
In the other case, Mrs Gohil suspected that her husband had not disclosed all of his assets and even stated as such in her agreement. That was as long ago as 2004. The husband was subsequently convicted of money laundering. It transpired in those proceedings that he had more money than he had previously disclosed.
“There are many cases where the richer partner is tempted to not disclose everything.” says Neil. “They sometimes take the view that their hard work created the wealth and they should therefore be entitled to keep more of it. They can believe that `keeping something back’ is a sort of insurance policy that will make up for the order the court will otherwise make.
“There can also be an attitude that if their husband or wife does not find out about the hidden assets, or the true value of undervalued assets, then that makes it alright.”
“The recent decision of the Supreme Court demonstrates several key points
- The duty to provide full, frank and honest disclosure rests against each partner in the proceedings. It is not appropriate to push the burden of proving the true value onto the other partner.
- The courts will re-open divorce financial applications even after many years have passed.
- Even where a couple have agreed a financial agreement between themselves the court reserves the jurisdiction to approve the agreement or not. Without the court exercising that jurisdiction then there is no finality. Having said that, the fact that the parties have reached an agreement will be one of the factors that the court takes into consideration.
“The clearest warning to non-disclosing husbands and wives is this; even if you think you have got away with non-disclosure or misrepresentation for now, you may never be off the hook entirely. The clearest reassurance to husbands and wives who feel they may have been misled is that the courts will be prepared to listen to your concerns and consider whether your previous agreement needs to be revisited.
“There will be many people reading the news this morning and wondering how the Sharland and Gohil cases apply to them. If you are worried about previous non-disclosure of income or assets, or want to know how to go about re-opening an agreement or court divorce financial order, even from many years ago, then it is important that you get expert advice from a specialist divorce lawyer as soon as possible.
“Although many months or years may have passed since your divorce finished, once you become aware of an irregularity or suspicion about disclosure then you will be expected to act promptly. Sitting on those suspicions and doing nothing for a while might be a defence that a non-disclosing partner could use against re-opening the settlement.”
If you or someone you know has questions about this then contact Diane Genders Solicitors today. We are specialist family lawyers situated just off Tritton Road in Lincoln Call us on 01522 516500 and arrange to speak to one of our team of divorce solicitors.