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Celebrity separation: Can you have your cake and eat it too?

View profile for Philip Hoddell
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Celebrity baker, Paul Hollywood, has certainly hit the headlines this week after his girlfriend, Summer Monteys-Fullam, allegedly dumped him after refusing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

But who is in the right here and what is the legal status of these sorts of documents?

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) originally came into being in order to protect commercial secrets between businesses planning on working together. They can also be used to preserve sensitive commercial information entering into the public domain through the actions of employees. 

NDAs were never designed to regulate personal relationships. However, they have become increasingly used by ‘celebrities’ to try to prevent ‘kiss and tell’ stories appearing in the press. A more sinister development became apparent when it emerged that they were being commonly used by wealthy individuals and companies to pay off alleged victims of bullying, harassment or sexual assault.

Undoubtedly then, NDAs are about exercising control over someone else. Paul Hollywood stands accused of having tried to silence his girlfriend by preventing her from talking about him, his finances, their relationship, their intimate life together or indeed any other aspect of their relationship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, although his lawyer described such agreements as normal, she disagreed and decided to vote with her feet.

Parliament has stated very clearly that NDAs should not be used to cover up bad behaviour.  It is hard for politicians to take the moral high ground though. The House of Commons has apparently spent nearly £2.5m over the last 5 years silencing more than 50 former staff members, usually to cover up their allegations of bullying or harassment at work!

It is quite clear that some of the very celebrities who are criticising very well-known business people for their use of NDAs are in fact using them themselves. I agree with the statement from domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid which has said: “No one should ever feel pressured into signing a non-disclosure agreement in a romantic relationship”.

There is a world of difference between divorcing couples who decide to keep the terms of their divorce confidential, and people at the start of their relationship who go into it attempting to control aspects of their new partner’s life.

If you would like to talk to someone about ending a relationship, I can be contacted at our Colchester office on 01206 217320 or philip.hoddell@birkettlong.co.uk.

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