In the news last week there was a judgment which was described as a “landmark” whereby two women, namely Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil were told by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, that they could seek larger payouts from their ex husbands because they had not fully disclosed their assets at the time the original financial orders were made.
Some commentators worried that this could open the floodgates for every person who is sceptical of whether their ex was truthful within Court proceedings and that hundreds of litigious cases to change financial orders and settlements could be brought, some many years after the original financial order had been made.
In the above cases, Mrs Sharland had accepted a financial settlement of £10.3million three years ago. The figure was made up of cash and properties. Her estranged husband, Mr Charles Sharland owned a company called AppSense and at the time he provided evidence to the Court to suggest that the firm was worth between £31million and £47million. Sometime after the financial settlement had been made into a binding order by the Judge, Mrs Sharland discovered that her husband was thinking about floating his company on the stock market; a move that would have given him considerable wealth. One estimate of the value of Mr Sharland’s company put it at £656million. Mrs Sharland’s position in the recent case was that her husband had not disclosed this potential at the time the financial settlement was reached; stating that “the evidence was manipulated” by her estranged husband.
At the lower stage of the Court of Appeal, the Judges agreed that Mr Sharland had deliberately tried to mislead the Court. Despite this two of the three Judges who heard the case at that level said that the original order should not be overturned because even though Mr Sharland’s evidence had been “seriously misleading” it would not have led to a significantly different outcome even if the financial settlement was revisited.
In Mrs Gohil’s case which was dealt with in 2004, she originally agreed to accept £270,000.00 and a car as her financial settlement. Mr and Mrs Gohil have 3 children who despite being grown up remain financially dependent on their mother. Throughout the case, Mr Gohil maintained that he had no assets but six years after the financial settlement, Bhadresh Gohil was sent to prison for being part of a multi-million pound money laundering scam. It is understood that he had laundered sums of up to £37million, a far cry from being on the breadline. Bhadresh Gohil was described in Court as “an out-and-out rogue involved in financial criminality on an eye watering scale”. Mrs Gohil also sought to revisit her financial settlement on the basis that she then had reason to believe that her ex-husband had been untruthful when he had provided his financial disclosure to the Court.
It is important to note that this ruling does not necessarily mean that either woman will eventually receive more than they did at the time of their original financial settlements. Whilst unlikely, it is even possible that they could receive less than they were awarded in the lower Court.
Many family lawyers have said for a long time that unscrupulous people are making a mockery of the family courts when it comes to giving accurate disclosure of their financial positions. The cases where any harsh sanctions have been applied following discovery of lies and deceit in the family courts are few and far between meaning that many people will feel it is worth the gamble to play down and manipulate the level of their wealth.
In practical terms the ruling in the above case should not be taken to mean that everyone who is unhappy with their financial settlement should consider revisiting it. The bar that has to be reached is extremely high and the cost of such litigation can easily outweigh the potential benefit in many cases. The case does, however, highlight that when dishonesty is discovered it will not be tolerated. Seeking to change a financial order or settlement is a complex business and legal advice should be sought. If you would like to speak to a member of our team about this or any other family law issue, call us on 01212482850.
21 October 2015.