It’s strange how often valuable assets disappear just when couples split up.
Now, a cynic might say that this is an example of one party deliberately hiding the assets to prevent their ex from getting their hands on them.
I, on the other hand, would say that it is just an incredible coincidence.
How, then, does a court decide whether it is a case of deception or coincidence? Well, the judge will essentially look at the evidence and decide which party is telling the truth.
That was the scenario in a case presided over by Mr Justice Holman in the High Court last week.
As far as I am aware, a full report of the case has not yet been published, so the details are a little sketchy. However, it concerned a financial remedies claim involving a couple who were both academics living in London.
In the course of the proceedings the wife told the court that some jewellery – three rings and a bracelet worth around £15,000 – had gone missing from the family home. She suggested that the husband had “concealed” them. The husband denied this, and said that the wife had lost them.
It seems that the main asset in the case was the former matrimonial home. Mr Justice Holman decided that that should be sold and that the net proceeds of sale should be divided, with 80 per cent going to the wife.
What, though, should he do about the jewellery?
Well, he did not specifically find that the husband was lying. However, he ordered that the wife would get an extra £10,000 from the sale of the house, unless the jewellery turned up by 16 December.
He apparently said to the husband: “I am not necessarily asking you to hand [the jewellery] back to her. But, if she comes home and finds them sitting on the dressing table that’s OK.”
The husband responded by saying that the wife had lost them, to which Mr Justice Holman replied: “She says she has turned this house upside down looking for them. She may find them. It would not be surprising if she found them. Somehow it may just magically happen.”
It seems that this perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek attitude flowed from a finding that the husband had attempted to put money “beyond the reach” of the wife. Mr Justice Holman had also said that he could well understand how the wife had found the husband a difficult man to deal with, saying: “He oozes great charm but is also garrulous, relentless and unyielding.”
The moral of the story is clear: claiming that assets have miraculously disappeared just when a marriage breaks down is likely to be met with some scepticism (if not cynicism) by the judge.
Photo by practicalowl via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
John Bolch is family law commentator