Taylor v Taylor was the sort of case that would set any solicitor’s alarm bells ringing. It appeared to be that classic scenario: the husband doing all he could to thwart the wife’s financial claim, including being less than forthcoming about his finances, and attempting to put assets beyond the reach of the wife.
Here are some of the issues that might trigger those alarm bells:
1. Firstly, throughout the proceedings the wife regularly claimed that the husband had not fully disclosed his finances and, indeed, that he had concealed assets.
2. Secondly, the husband had fairly recently been a successful trader who had made a profit of £1.4 million in 2007, but now apparently had “inadequate current income to make any substantial or indeed adequate provision for the wife”.
3. Lastly, and perhaps most seriously, the husband had taken out a second mortgage over the former couple’s home in favour of his mother, apparently as security for a debt to her on his part of £500,000, thereby substantially reducing the amount available to divide between the parties.
All the signs were there and reading the report one would expect the court to come down firmly in favour of the wife. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
The facts were that the parties married in 2006. They had one child. They separated in 2009, when the husband issued divorce proceedings. The court then had to deal with the issue of a financial settlement.
The court first looked at whether the second mortgage was valid and provided security for a genuine debt. At a hearing in March 2011 the court found in favour of the husband, holding that the charge was validly and did secure a real debt of £500,000 owed by the husband to his mother. An application that the wife had made to set aside the mortgage was therefore dismissed.
The final financial remedy (settlement) hearing then took place and eventually judgment was given in April 2012. We are not told the details, but it was clearly not satisfactory so far as the wife was concerned. She applied for permission to appeal, both against that order and against an order made in October 2011 refusing her permission to appeal against the court’s ruling on the second mortgage.
The latter application was dealt with quite shortly by the Court of Appeal. Under Section 54(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999, it was not open to the wife to challenge the refusal of permission. That application was therefore dismissed, and accordingly the order in respect of the second mortgage was beyond challenge.
The grounds for the appeal against the financial settlement were ‘primarily that the order and the trial process were vitiated [invalidated] by the husband’s concealment of assets’. The wife maintained that the court should either have refused to make a settlement order without full disclosure, or should have inferred that the husband’s assets were greater than he had disclosed.
Giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Lloyd found that the judge had been entitled to proceed on the basis of the evidence before him. He noted that prior to the final hearing the wife had sought further disclosure on a number of occasions. In the circumstances, he was not satisfied that there was any arguable substance in the wife’s allegations of non-disclosure or fraud – they seemed to be largely attempts to re-argue the points she had already made before the lower court, mostly unsuccessfully.
Lord Justice Lloyd accepted it was arguable that the state of the evidence at the final hearing may not have been satisfactory. However, he said the claim that the judge should either have ordered the husband to make further disclosure or made negative inferences about the husband was “not a proposition on which there is any reasonable prospect of success in an appeal”.
Accordingly, permission was refused on both applications.
John Bolch is a family law commentator