Financial remedies order set aside

Divorce | 22 Jan 2020 0

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What is a consent order?

September 22, 2020

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Financial remedies order set aside: A financial remedies order is intended to be final. There are therefore only very limited grounds for it to be set aside, and accordingly, it is very rare for a set-aside to occur. For an order to be set aside twice in the same proceedings is, to use Mr Justice Holman’s words, vanishingly rare and probably unique (he was actually referring to a set-aside application, rather than order, but as indicated by the title above, the application was successful).

The application was made by the wife (as I will call her, although the marriage was dissolved back in 2010) in the recent High Court case Goddard-Watts v Goddard-Watts, in which Mr Justice Holman handed down judgment in November.

Material non-disclosure

The circumstances of the application were as follows (as is the nature of so many big money cases, the financial details were quite complex, and I am therefore considerably simplifying them, for the sake of clarity – I am also simplifying the decisions of the court).

  1. The parties began to cohabit in 1987 and were married in 1996.
  2. They have three children, all now adult.
  3. They separated in 2009 and, as mentioned, were divorced in 2010.
  4. The husband was a successful businessman, and by 2010 he had amassed considerable wealth and moved to live in Switzerland.
  5. In June 2010 the first financial remedies order was made by consent. It provided, in essence, that the wife should receive the former matrimonial home in England and a lump sum of £4 million.
  6. The wife later discovered that the husband had failed to disclose two valuable trusts of which the husband was the principal beneficiary. That led to her first set-aside application. The application was heard by Mr Justice Moor, who set aside the consent order in July 2015.
  7. The wife’s financial remedies application was re-heard by Mr Justice Moylan, who essentially decided in November 2016 that the wife should receive a further £6.22 million, calculated as half the “marital” element of the undisclosed trusts.
  8. Following this, the wife discovered that there was further material non-disclosure by the husband, this time in relation to the value of his business. He had failed to disclose an offer that had been made for the business which was for four times the value of the business given to the court by an accountant. The wife, therefore, applied for the order made in November 2016 to be set aside.

Folly

Mr Justice Holman found that the husband had deliberately withheld and failed to disclose the truth and that Mr Justice Moylan would not have made the order he did when he did if the truth had been known. Accordingly, the order made in November 2016 must be set aside, and the wife’s financial remedies claim re-heard again.

Mr Justice Holman said of this outcome:

“From the perspective of the wife, I enormously regret that outcome. It is now ten years since the parties separated, and she continues to battle for a just resolution of her claims based on openness and full and frank disclosure. From the perspective of the husband, I do not regret it. Frankly, he has brought it upon himself by his folly, not once, but twice, of seeking to conceal obviously important facts, despite surrounding himself by legal teams of the utmost distinction.”

I cannot end this post without mentioning the costs that were incurred by the parties. We are not told the total, but it runs into millions. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr Justice Holman concludes his judgment with the following exhortation:

“…as I part from this case, I once again most earnestly urge the parties to enter into serious negotiations and find an early basis for settlement, so that the vortex of profligate spending and mutual destruction finally ends.”

Let us hope they take note.

The full judgment can be found here.

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If you would like any advice on a financial remedies order, divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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