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Overturning original divorce settlements

View profile for Lisa Collins
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As reported by the BBC ('Women challenge 'unfair' divorce settlements'), this week the Supreme Court is considering applications from two ex wives who want to overturn their original divorce settlements.  Both argue that their husbands lied to the court about how much they were worth.  Other than that, the facts of each case are very different. 

  1. Alison Sharland complains that her husband told the court he had no plans to float his company, when at the time he was actively involved in discussions to do just that.  The financial press speculated that his company could be worth ten times the amounts being talked about in the divorce court.  The Court of Appeal agreed that Mr Sharland had lied but said that since Mrs Sharland’s settlement gave her 30% of whatever he received from his shares in the company, the lie made no difference to the settlement. 
  2. Varsha Gohil sought to reopen her 2004 divorce settlement after her husband was sent to prison for ten years in 2010 for an alleged money laundering fraud valued at £37 million.  The Court of Appeal had already decided that the evidence from the criminal trial could not be introduced back into the divorce proceedings and therefore there was insufficient evidence to re-open the case, despite the husband being described as “an out and out rogue”. 

The divorce court always has the ability to look at a case again if there is sufficient evidence of a material non-disclosure (i.e. something which would have made a difference).  It seems peculiar that both husbands could lie to the court and yet there be no change to the original settlement.  However, the Court of Appeal gave good reasons in each case why the original lie should not necessarily lead to a re-opening of the case. 

The Supreme Court is being asked by both women to reach a different decision.  If it does then I expect a lot of other people to try to revisit their divorce settlement.  If it does not, there will surely be a general feeling that both men have “got away with it”.  I think the Supreme Court will be slow to re-open either case because of the potential for it to lead to increased amounts of litigation.  However, we will not know for several months yet, so watch this space.

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