Two women who said that their ex- husbands misled the court about how much they were worth have recently won the right to have their settlements re-examined by the High court years after the original agreements were approved by a lower court.
The court unanimously held that dishonesty or fraud involving a failure to disclose financial assets were grounds for voiding and re-negotiating the terms of a settlement.
This landmark case is likely to tempt some aggrieved ex- spouses to embark on legal proceedings to reopen their divorce settlements in an attempt to gain more money.
Delivering Judgement in one of the cases Lady Hale said “She had been deprived of her right to a full and fair hearing of her claims”
One of the woman said “I am relieved and delighted that the Supreme Court Judges have ruled in our favour. I hope that their decision sends out a message to everyone going through a divorce that they cannot lie in the family courts and get away with it”
One of the women’s lawyers said “this is a victory for common sense and a defeat for dishonesty – it just goes to show that if you don’t put all your cards on the table when divorcing it might come back to bite you further down the line”
The case illustrates the importance of full and frank disclosure between parties to a divorce and the duty to be honest. If a party is not honest and an agreement is based on false information it is clear that the court must later disregard it if the true situation comes to light.
Some claim that the case will open the floodgates to frivolous claims by alleged “wronged” spouses seeking to reopen historical divorce settlements in an effort to extract more money from their former partner. However, it must be remembered that a spouse’s lie must have been material enough to convince a court that, had it not been told, the settlement would have been vastly different.
Perhaps the more useful purpose that the case will serve is to demonstrate to a spouse tempted to lie about their financial position that they simply cannot get away with it.
If you are in the midst of a separation and need to negotiate a financial settlement it is essential that you engage the services of an expert family solicitor. Whilst a solicitor cannot prevent your spouse from lying they will have the necessary expertise and experience to ask the right questions and scrutinise documents leaving you less likely to end up in the High Court in years to come.
If you would like to discuss this, or any other aspect of family law, please feel free to contact one of our family law specialists on 01536 276313 or 01536 311690.
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