Supreme Court allows divorce settlement appeals

Divorce|October 14th 2015

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favour of two women who had applied to set aside their divorce settlements.

Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil had both alleged that their husbands had been dishonest about finances during their divorces. They argued that they received an unfair financial settlement than they deserved as a result.

At the end of Ms Sharland’s 17 year marriage to the founder of software firm AppSense, she agreed to a division of the couple’s assets. Following their divorce, she discovered that the firm was worth more than she had been told. Additionally, she heard of her ex-husband’s plans to float the firm on the Stock Exchange. But when she took her case to the Court of Appeal she was told it was unlikely that she would have received a higher award even if Mr Sharland had been more honest about the value of the firm. Despite this decision, the Court deemed her ex-husband’s evidence “seriously misleading”.

Meanwhile, Varsha Gohil discovered evidence that her ex-husband had not been frank about his finances in 2004, two years after the couple divorced. He was subsequently convicted of fraud and money laundering. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that evidence from the husband’s criminal proceedings could not be used to overturn the settlement. Therefore, Ms Gohil had no way to prove her claim.

The Supreme Court Justices ruled that Ms Sharland had been deprived of her right to a full and fair hearing. In the judgment, Lady Hale said that Mr Sharland “had deceived the court” and that the original judge “would not have made the order he did when he did had the truth been known”.

In Ms Gohil’s case, Lord Wilson declared that the Court of Appeal had taken an “erroneous approach to the admissibility of – so it appears – all the evidence”, and as a result, “its dismissal of her application cannot stand”. He said that her “claim for further capital provision should therefore proceed”.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling had been a “rare aberration”.

Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe welcomed the rulings. She said:

“We all come into this profession to see that justice is done. Justice is not about speed or economy or being simply pragmatic and taking a broad brush approach – it is something far more important. Speed economy and pragmatism on their own can lead to serious miscarriages of justice as we have seen only recently in the case of the wrongfully adopted baby, and in these cases too where the wives have had to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

She continued:

“Justice is about having a fair hearing in every respect, and if fraud is proved then it should be immediately pounced upon and set aside. The Supreme Court has today demonstrated that justice comes first and all credit to them for it.”

The Supreme Court judgments are available online. To read Sharland v Sharland, click here and to read Gohil v Gohil, click here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Obviously right but let’s keep our feet on the ground. An ex-spouse seeking to re-open the order still needs to act swiftly after learning the truth.
    And it will be no good chasing property which has been sold on to third parties – if you buy a house from a divorced spouse you are not at risk if the vendor’s ex claims that it would not have been the vendor’s to sell if the vendor had not deceived the court. if the deceiver has dissipated the money, it’s just too bad.
    Similarly of course if the ex has died, with the added complication that it will be harder to convince the court that an ex has lied who is not there to be heard.

  2. Luke says:

    The problem with this is that you now have the anxiety that your divorce is never over – it’s hanging over your head indefinitely.
    Will we see awards retrospectively reduced where it turns out the richer spouse shows 10 years down the line that the court’s assessment of their finances was too high or the poorer spouse had lied and could now be shown to have been in a committed cohabiting relationship?
    I highly doubt it.
    Of course the solution to all this is again the same – don’t get married and most of these problems just melt away…

  3. John B says:

    Determining what assets are worth is not best determined by a court. It’s unfain to make it seem like an asset that is not liquid somehow has a state able value. If an an entire asset class was hidden this ruling makes sense. If a value was attributed and agreed by the spouse by virtue of a consent, I think once again this ruling sets back England to 1973. Indeed it seems like there is ruling after ruling that leaves a marriage never concluded. It’s a life sentence; especially if the court allown final consents to be reopened. Value is always debatable, and by itself is NOT fraud. Hiding a yacht that the spouse did not know you had is.

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