Divorce and finances on ITV’s This Morning

Divorce|October 15th 2015

It certainly has been a busy couple of days. The Supreme Court’s decision to back Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil in their bid to re-open their divorce settlements is unlikely to have escaped your attention.

Both the national and local media wanted to talk about the details of this case and what effect the ruling may have going forward. I was asked to discuss it on the BBC News TV channel, in the Financial Times and on eleven BBC radio stations across the country. Additionally, Neil Dring – one of Stowe Family Law’s team of solicitors – was interviewed by London Live about the implications of the Court’s decision.

The story prompted many questions about the financial aspects of divorce law and ITV’s This Morning show invited me to join presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby in the studio to field some of those questions from viewers. What follows is an amplified version of the necessarily short period of time I had to discuss the issues which arose.

The first caller was worried that her partner had claimed he earned less than he actually did. It is sadly not unusual for people to undervalue their assets when facing the prospect of a divorce – as was demonstrated by the Sharland and Gohil ruling. People think that they are only dealing with their partner so they can get away with it. What they sometimes forget is that divorce is a serious process and lying in court can send them to prison. I recommended that the caller seek legal advice if only as a bare minimum to fully understand her position. I said that no-one could pretend that doing a case with a lawyer is the same as on her own.

You may think that it is simple to prove how much someone earns. Whilst that is true in most cases, for those who are self-employed, or someone who has another business alongside their main job, proving an exact income can be difficult. The best approach is to carefully go through the documents which disclose their finances (called a Form E) and check the assets to see if anything is missing. If you can, it may be a good idea to consult a forensic accountant. They are trained to uncover hidden assets or a solicitor to ensure the Questionnaire in response is good enough to deal with the deficiencies and thereafter to ask a Judge to make an order it is answered at the First Appointment.

Another caller believed her former husband had received more than he deserved in their divorce. I explained that there are many factors which a judge will take into consideration when it comes to financial settlements, such as the length of the marriage and the age of the parties. The judge will weigh up all these factors and make a decision. These factors can be found in Section 25 Mateimonial Causes Act 1973.

In order to set aside a decision, applicants have 21 days to appeal and must demonstrate that the judge was plainly wrong. As this week’s Supreme Court cases demonstrate, if a party has been dishonest about the extent of their finances and assets, it can affect the judge’s final assessment. However, when there is provable fraud in a case, the judge’s decision can be set aside. There is not always a sinister explanation. Sometimes a party will make an honest mistake in their disclosures. If their partner believes this is the case, it is up to them to convince the judge that the mistake is enough to set aside the original order.

The third caller was going through a divorce and claimed his wife had been unfaithful. He wondered how that would affect the financial settlement. Put simply, conduct is irrelevant. Unless there has been some very serious misconduct – I recall a case early in my career when one spouse stabbed the other in the neck – it will not have any impact on the judge’s decision when it comes to finance. Having an affair, however distressing it may be, is not considered sufficiently serious to affect a financial settlement. However living with someone or marrying them is important to take into account in the overall scheme of things.

Phillip Schofield asked me if I thought the English divorce system was fair. Whilst some may disagree, I had to say that I do. Our system is based principally on diving income and assets in order to meet the reasonable needs of the parties and that is a much better way of doing things than an automatic 50/50 split as to be found on the Continent.

On the sidebar of this blog is a link to my book, Divorce and Splitting Up which contains some 275 pages of information as to what to expect when considering relationship breakdown. It is available as an e book for 99p and the proceeds are all donated to The Children’s Society. My book contains far more information than could be dealt with in a few minutes on TV. It won’t make up for the appalling injustice done by the removal of legal aid for all but a very few, but it’s my effort anyhow. I hope it helps.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Andy says:

    Mostly in divorce cases and as widley documented the biggest looser is the Father..
    Firstly most courts will support the Mother as children are involved…The Father gived via Child maintenance calculation A quater of his salary..as a percentage.Then You go to court it costs you in the reagion of 20k.Then you argue for the finances and the court decides a 70/30 split of the marital home…so in essance you are hammerd…Then the courts will waward the Mother with a maintenance allowance on top of it all..so on this calculation you gain nothing and your ex partner gets it all.Now having supported and been compliant on your financial forms you find out your partner has lied on thers but forget that thats ok but yours isn’t so in all give up…The courts and child maintenance services think you are scum and make you pay.
    One thing to point out your ex partner earns double what you earn and benefits on top mean they are better off…whilst you the Father live like a tramp…same old story..Now if you read the child maintenance guidabce it says all through the booklet..we encourage both parties to actively work to agree a suitable payment plan..that is shit..what they realy mean if you don’t pay we will take all your assets off you and add aditional costs that you will pay..I think that it is called forced payment not amicable..
    typical government policy…no wonder Fathers commit suicide.yet nothing is dine to assist the issue to this..
    Now if you go to court it will not be a clean break so later on in life she can re claim further finances to top up…
    Go on the dole or self employed..
    Goid luck to Fathers if you.

  2. Andy says:

    Apologise for many spelling mistakes..I have a shit phone..
    Just to follow on from the prior comment…
    If your ex partner has lied like my Ex and not disclosed all finances on the E forms you have some justification to re open and argue the divided finances…not just the Mother in this case who can apply to re look at your
    leave a comment as this subject as it is a game changer..
    good luck…

    • Luke says:

      With regards to children Andy you are right, the man almost certainly won’t get custody and he will pay heavily, if you want kids then they can nail you, there is little you can do about that and they know it.
      You can, however, arrange your financial assets to make it a difficult for the Court to take further advantage of you – and the most important point of all is so so simple – Do. NOT. Get. Married.

  3. Nordic says:

    Dear Marilyn,
    Actually, most European jurisdictions allow for pre nuptials and the 50/50 split is the default regime applied in the absence of other agreements. For example, this is true of both the Nordics and the French.
    As to which system is superior, I guess it depends on the eye (objective) of the beholder. Family lawyers in the Nordics, France, Germany etc would be green with envy at the massive fees that can be extracted from normal middle and working class families in this jurisdiction. In my own case, we spent a large part of our wealth to arrive at an outcome here in England, which was almost identical to a Nordic outcome. However, where in the Nordics that outcome would have been given by law, here it involved lawyers and court appearances galore. I am not surprised that family lawyers in this jurisdiction find the English process “superior”.
    If, however, the main objective of family law is to protect families and children when they are most vulnerable, then your system is an unmitigated disaster. It pitches parents against each other from day one. It makes lawyers a de facto third party to the asset division, reducing the children’s future inheritance (as in my case). It instigates and stimulates life long acrimony with all the emotional damage this inflicts on the very children, the system so disingenuously claims is its paramount consideration.
    In previous posts, I have provided some telling statistics from the Danish system (refer posts for source references). Let me repeat two of these. Firstly, in Denmark 50% of all divorces are reported to have been concluded with a single lawyer acting on behalf of both parties. Since Danish family law contains real law and firm rules, the scope for “conflicts of interest” and therefore fighting over money is massively reduced. Secondly, a recent government survey on parental sharing post divorce found that between 2 and 3 percent of parents lost contact with their children. The figures reported here on absent fathers (a term I have never encountered in Nordic media) is somewhere between 20 and 40%. Having spent the best part of 2 years in your brutal and conflictual divorce process, believe me those statistics are related.
    You have the sources. Explain to me why a system which unnecessarily generates fatherless children in their hundreds of thousands can possibly considered anything other than an unmitigated disaster.

  4. Andrew says:

    The suggestion that if you were open and truthful in disclosing your assets you have nothing to fear from these new cases would be true if it were not for costs.
    Any application to re-open a final order whether on Barder or on fraud grounds should be subject to a rule that costs follow the event; and the applicant should be required, if the respondent requires, to insure the liability; the premium to be recoverable from the respondent if the application succeeds, but to be paid up-front by the applicant. Otherwise these applications are going to be legalised blackmail.
    As for dividing the income and assets to meet the reasonable needs of both parties: it does not work. Usually there is not enough. In such cases fifty-fifty, postponed if necessary during the minority of any children, is the only fair solution; you could call it equality of sacrifice. And it’s equally fair in cases where there is plenty of money around.

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