The division of assets in divorce is a hot topic at the moment, largely due to the recent and very high profile case of Sharland and Gohil.
The details of this case are provided in a previous blog that you can reach via this link.
Varsha Gohil and Alison Sharland sought to reopen their cases, claiming their ex-husbands misled the divorce courts about the true value of their assets meaning that both women received substantially lower settlements than they should have, had their husbands been truthful about the value of their assets.
Both women were claiming for significantly larger payouts, on the basis that they were denied justice due to their husbands’ deliberate non disclosure. Worryingly, it has been suggested that such behaviour is common in high-value divorce cases.
It’s little wonder the case s have received so much press attention as, in essence, the Supreme Court’s ruling highlights that ex-spouses have the right to contest their divorce settlement at any time in the future, if they have reason to believe the courts were misled about the extent of their partner’s wealth. This has always been the law, but the Supreme Court has clarified a few assumptions that will be made in the circumstances of non-disclosure. These are:
It will be presumed that the non -disclosure is material; and
It will be for the non-discloser [JB1] to prove that the non-disclosure is not material, and that the court would not have made a different order.
In any divorce case, we always highlight to our clients the importance of full and frank financial disclosure on all the assets of the marriage. Failure to comply with your disclosure obligations within the court process is serious and, as has been shown to be the case, can result in any court order being set aside. The obligation is ongoing and includes a duty to disclose any material change in financial circumstances. If you are found to have deliberately misled the court, criminal proceedings for contempt of courtmay be taken against you. Being open and honest from the outset is the best way to ensure any settlement really is final and cannot be set aside in the future.
We would whole heartedly encourage the use of mediation, not only to help settle the divorce division of assets between a couple but also to try to avoid any added strain or animosity in what is an already stressful situation, and try to avoid matters being referred to the court. Even where an agreement has been reached voluntarily, both parties must have had a full understanding of all the assets and liabilities in the case, prior to compromising their claims.
A survey by the Prudential Insurance Company revealed that for one in seven middle-aged couples, one partner conceals details of their financial affairs – from earnings to savings accounts and pensions. With an increasing number of couples keeping their finances separate, or at least having separate bank accounts in addition to a joint account, it is becoming even more important to ensure full and frank disclosure in order to avoid a divorce becoming a fraud case.
Until now the penalties for lying have been considered fairly low and therefore many considered it ‘worth a gamble’. This recent ruling, however, means that partners are risking prison for contempt of court by not sharing the full details of their wealth
The message is clear – being dishonest doesn’t pay and non-disclosure is tantamount to non-disclosure. No excuses.
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