A common response to relationship breakdown is to let it become all-consuming. In particular, the desire for revenge or simply for ‘justice’ can occupy a person for many years to come. That may be what happened in the recent case of Wilmot v Wilmot.
The parties were married in 1991 and there were three children, now aged 20, 18 and 14. The marriage broke down and divorce proceedings begun. A decree nisi was pronounced in June 2000 and the divorce was finalised in September 2001. A financial/property order had been made in July 2001, which was intended to be final. Unfortunately, it was far from that.
In 2005 the husband successfully applied to have the order set aside. The wife then appealed against the setting-aside order, claiming that it had been obtained by fraud and non‑disclosure on the part of the husband. Her appeal was allowed, by an order made in September 2006.
Both parties then sought to appeal ‘out of time’ (past the legal deadline) against the 2001 order, and in a rare example of cooperation they agreed a fresh settlement, which was incorporated into a consent order in July 2007.
That, however, was still not the end of the matter. In early 2012 the husband issued proceedings seeking to set aside the consent order and reinstate his appeal against the original 2001 order, claiming that both orders were obtained by fraud on the part of the wife. She allegedly pretended that she had been entirely financially dependent upon the husband, when in fact she was in a relationship with another man, who was financially maintaining her. In support of this allegation the husband claimed that he was not the father of the youngest child and that from early 2001 the wife (and children) had been living with the ‘other man’, in California, rather than as a single mother in England.
Looking at these two claims is instructive.
Firstly, the issue of the paternity of the youngest child. The child was born in Germany, where the wife’s parents live. The husband had been in England with the other two children at the time of the birth, but the wife claimed that he then went to Germany and signed the birth notification as the father. The husband denied going to Germany, and claimed that the signature was not his. However, the wife was able to find some photographs showing the entire family, including the husband, in hospital with the newly-born child.
Secondly, in support of the husband’s claim that the wife and children had been living in California at the time of the 2001 order, he produced a letter from a school there dated June 2012, indicating that the two older children were enrolled at the school from February 2001 to December 2002. However, this letter had only been prepared by the school in response to an erroneous request from the husband that such a letter was required in connection with the children’s university admission. In fact, the school had destroyed all records relating to the children, and had simply relied upon what the husband had told it as to the dates of their attendance.
Not surprisingly, the court did not consider that either claim carried any weight. Accordingly, the husband’s applications were refused.
Now, I don’t know what was in the husband’s mind when he re-opened matters in 2012. What seems likely, however, is that the family has been put through further upset, stress and expense, adding to that they already suffered over the prolonged period between 2000 and 2007. The message must be: think very carefully before prolonging a dispute following relationship breakdown.