Woman with mental illness allowed to appeal against divorce settlement

A wife who suffered with bipolar disorder has been granted permission by the High Court to appeal against her divorce settlement.

In the case of MAP vs RAP, Mr Justice Mostyn ruled that the woman – who had been detained under the Mental Health Act on a number of occasions – had lacked capacity at the time the agreement was reached.

Court had heard that the couple had married in 1981 and the wife eventually petitioned for divorce in 2008. A year earlier she had been diagnosed with bipolar, a condition characterised by extreme mood swings, and during the period that the consent order was being negotiated she was in and out of psychiatric care.

An initial agreement was reached in 2011 and shortly afterwards, the woman was admitted to Lewisham Hospital’s mental health unit. Medical staff found she was suffering with psychotic symptoms and “very vulnerable.”

After being discharged from the unit a couple of months later, she fired her solicitors and travelled to Italy. The formal financial settlement was made in April 2012.

However, when the woman’s mental health had improved she applied for permission to challenge the divorce agreement.

In submissions to the court, she had also made claims that the divorce was “unfair” – dividing capital 80/20 in favour of her ex-husband  – and that he had been guilty of not fully disclosing his financial assets.

These claims were quickly dismissed by Mr Justice Mostyn, who said that any appeal on these grounds had “no prospect of success”.

He was, however, sympathetic to the argument that the applicant’s mental state raised questions about whether she had the capacity to come to an agreement.

“I believe that it is arguable, indeed strongly arguable, that between the time that the consent order was said to be formed in August 2011, right through to the time that the consent order was made on 19th April 2012  the wife did not have the requisite capacity while she was in hospital.”

The ruling is unusual as it is very rare for a court to grant an appeal against a consent order.