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.”
“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.”