A High Court judge has ordered the father of a divorcee to be excluded from court while his daughter is cross-examined on the nature of a financial agreement.
In Luckwell v Limata, the wife had applied for financial relief (maintenance) following her divorce. Her parents had attended the entirety of the hearing up to the point at which the wife was to give evidence on the agreement.
At the High Court, Mr Justice Holman noted that “ it is crystal clear that the entirety of the assets under discussion in this case have derived originally and ultimately from one or other or both of the wife’s parents”.
The wife’s parents were currently providing more than £100,000 a year in financial support to their daughter and her children, including the payment of school fees.
In addition, some years previously, the father had given her a very valuable house in Connaught Square, central London, thought to be worth £6.7 million. At the time she had agreed with her father that “that she would never sell it, charge it or raise money upon it, at any rate without his consent.”
The judge said:
“…the husband signed a prenuptial agreement and, later, two supplementary agreements, in all of which he agreed, in effect, that in the event of separation and divorce he would make no claim at all against the assets of the wife. The governing prenuptial agreement clearly recites that each of the husband and wife “specifically acknowledges and agrees that the marriage would not be taking place without this agreement having been negotiated and signed by each of them”. Further, it is the case of the wife that there would have been no question of her father giving Connaught Square to her, or indeed money with which to buy earlier properties, unless the husband had first signed not only that prenuptial agreement but also each of the supplemental agreements. That is clearly a very significant feature of this case.”
Mr Justice Holman explained: “It is at the moment stated by the father in a written statement that, in the event that the wife is now effectively forced to sell or even raise money secured upon that property, he will completely terminate all the payments that he currently makes for the support of his daughter and grandchildren and for their school fees.”
Therefore, if the house was sold or mortgaged, the wife’s financial support would be significantly reduced.
However, said the judge, “areas where the evidence at the moment is potentially in conflict or, at any rate, less clear as to what discussions may have taken place”.
Therefore, “it is plain that in this very anxious situation there is a need to have some exploration as to the true intentions of the father… which, in turn, may involve consideration of his motivation when he extracted whatever promises he did extract.”
The husband’s counsel argued that the husband should be excluded from the courtroom while the wife gave evidence. The father’s counsel opposed this, saying: “it is of importance to the appearance of justice to his client that her father should not be excluded from any part of the hearing.”
Mr Justice Holman was forthright.
“I, for my part, am less focused for the purposes of this particular ruling on the appearance of justice to either of these parties than on the quality, purity and reliability of the evidence which I have still to hear. There are potentially issues of fact here upon which the evidence is, to my mind, still obscure. To my mind, the evidence of each of the wife and, more particularly, her father will have greater value as evidence if the father is not present while she gives the relevant part of her evidence and is not able to hear at the time what she has said before giving his own evidence.”
“…one of the realities of this case is that decisions voluntarily made by [the father] could make it more or less easy for his daughter, the wife, to find a way through to settlement. So there is no doubt that he is somebody who is, to put it colloquially, “centre stage”. But it does seem to me, on balance, that the evidence of each of the wife and, later, of [the father] is likely to be of greater value as evidence and to carry greater weight if he is not present while she gives her evidence on the topics that I have outlined.”