The Ex (Wives) Files: The Truth is Still Out There
With Agents Mulder and Scully set to return to the screen next year to continue their ongoing search for the truth in the face of layers of conspiracy, two former wives have succeeded with their court cases to have financial agreements set aside, on the basis that their spouses had lied as to the extent of their wealth.
The Supreme Court has published its decisions in the case of Sharland and Gohil and these developments are likely to have a fundamental impact on family law in the future.
Both sets of wives had claimed before their matters came before the Supreme Court that following a financial settlement, they had uncovered evidence proving that their husbands had lied about the extent of their finances, meaning that their settlements were lower than they should have been. In the Sharland case, the essential issue related to the value of the husband’s interest in AppSense, a software firm and in Gohil, documents discovered which then convicted the husband of fraud and money laundering.
In the Sharland case the Lower Court held that even if the truth had been known at the time the deal was struck, it would not have made a difference to the outcome. The Supreme Court reversed that decision. Mrs Sharland had been deprived of an opportunity for a fair settlement and a proper hearing as a result of her husband’s actions. Mr Sharland had deceived the court and his wife so the case should be revisited.
Mrs Gohil’s claim had been rejected by the Court of Appeal because the criminal evidence couldn’t be used within the family proceedings. The Supreme Court confirmed that the Court of Appeal was wrong and that she should be able to claim further capital from her husband. This was inspite of the wife having knowledge that there was some non-disclosure when the settlement was made, but when the subsequent criminal proceedings revealed the full nature of the husband’s dishonesty she was permitted to have the settlement reviewed. The Court gave endorsement to “fraud unravels all”.
It was only relatively recently that the case of Prest reinforced the doctrine that makes it possible for parties to family litigation to ‘hide’ assets behind companies and therefore keep them out of consideration in dividing money fairly. Gohil and Sharland will go some way to addressing the perception that one party can manipulate the disclosure and settlement process.
Family financial negotiations should be based upon transparency and honesty and any departure from these essential principles should be rectified. The Supreme Court have reminded us that the Court will permit a review of decisions made where information supplied falls short of full disclosure by a party. The Court can only fulfil its statutory duty to each party in determining a case in full knowledge of all circumstances. Without the firm foundations of full and frank financial disclosure – coupled with an ongoing duty to keep that information updated, serious miscarriages of justice can occur.
It is a shame that both wives had to incur the expense, uncertainty and risk of taking this matter to the highest court in this country to have so fundamental a principle of family justice reinforced. Will Mulder and Scully finally succeed in establishing the truth…?