Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe has spoken to various local outlets about the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.
The Court unanimously ruled in favour of Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil, who claimed their former husbands had not provided full financial disclosures during their divorces.
Mrs Stowe started the day by discussing the cases with Penny Smith and Paul Ross on BBC Radio London. Then she spent the morning talking about the issue with BBC Radio stations in Newcastle, York, Leicester, Humberside, Somerset, Stoke, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Devon.
Finally, she was interviewed on the BBC News channel. She said that the results were a triumph of justice and sent a clear message that people should be completely honest when going through a divorce.
Transcript from Marilyn Stowe on BBC Newcastle
AF: Anna Foster
MJS: Marilyn Stowe
AF: Marilyn Stowe is one of the UK’s leading divorce lawyers she’s a very busy lady and she joins us now. Good morning, Marilyn.
MJS: Hello, Good Morning.
AF: Marilyn what do you think about this verdict?
MJS: I think it’s great. I think it’s very important for every one of us because it sends out a very strong signal that you have to be honest with your dealings with your spouse, even if you not feeling very well disposed towards you spouse, full, frank and honest disclosure has to be made or if you can prove fraud the court will set it aside and start again.
AF: There’ll be couple who have the divorce chat even when they are happily married, me and my husband have that chat and say we’d be fair, we’d be amicable and when it actually comes to, those couples suddenly are not any longer. Is it quite prevalent that people become nasty when money is involved and lies start happening all of the time?
MJS: Well, it’s not unusual. It is known but a good lawyer will focus on the client and will say to the client “look, divvy it up accurately and sensibly and move on”, and you have to help your client, not look back, look forward. The reality is, actually the wealthier party who’ve got to make this heart-rending payment will make the money back and will be able to start again and make it all up again. It is just a case of “what am I worth, what’s a reasonable deal and how do we sort it out and also save ourselves a lot of time and trouble of legal costs?”.
AF: So it not about focussing on the emotion of it but actually the practicalities of it.
MJS: There are lots of people who think to themselves “I would like to get this all over and done with, I know I’m probably accepting less but I’m not really bothered about investigating what somebody is worth”, that person is very different and won’t be able to set aside an order if a year later he or she thinks “I made a mistake there…”
AF: Right, so they won’t then be able to go back if you said “I’m can’t really be bothered with it all”, then in a couple of years’ time you can’t decide to go back on that?
MJS: No. Exactly, you can’t do that. You get one shot at this so you have to do it correctly. Whether you have a lawyer or you don’t, you’ve got to make sure there’s an even playing field and you all know what it’s worth and the courts know what everyone is worth.
AF: So if someone is listening to the show now and thinking “right, I got divorced a couple of years ago and I am now thinking he wasn’t particularly honest or she wasn’t particularly honest”, can they then go back?
MJS: If they can prove it. You’ve got to be able to prove it. You’ve got to be able to prove that there was a deliberate fraud. If there was a mistake made or what is called misrepresentation, you have to be able to persuade the court that really it’s of sufficient importance and it was near enough to the court order to actually make a difference and therefore set it aside, that’s a different thing. If you’re thinking he or she lied and didn’t disclose, didn’t tell the truth, if the court is satisfied that did happen they will set aside the order. I’ve done it, I have done it in the past but it involves half a million pounds difference…
AF: So you’ve done it personally?
MJS: Oh no, not me. This was for a client and it made a difference to the client of half a million pounds so it was worth doing. But those cases, I have to say are quite rare. The Saraland and Gohil type case isn’t very common.
AF: So do you think this won’t open the floodgates then, because I think we’re thinking that it will open the floodgates?
MJS: People post-divorce can be very bitter, very upset, very traumatised and find it difficult to move on. They might think that they didn’t do well because of the divorce and may want to set something aside, but wanting to and thinking you’ve been hard done by are not the same as having concrete evidence of fraud and being able to set it aside.
AF: And the money to do that, we’ve had a text saying “It may be very expensive this looking back and review, can I claim the costs back against my ex even though I am working?”
MJS: If you are successful, if the court takes the view there was fraud, then it’s likely the costs will follow the event, namely he would be order to pay the costs. But I have to say that lots of people, and again I’ve had lots of people consulting me in the past about this who are really on a bit of a wild goose chase because there is no tangible evidence, you’ve got to be able to prove it.
AF: So it’s not as easy as it sounds, you see this case and think “blimey, look at that, he was worth more / she was worth more, I’m going for it.”?
MJS: Absolutely, it isn’t. It isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s quite a tough call. Sometimes, things come out in the press that really prove the fraud, years later something can happen but just thinking “his or her lifestyle doesn’t match what they disclosed in the divorce”, that isn’t enough. You’ve got to be able to show it, really show that there was fraud.
AF: A lot of people that we speak to generally whenever we chat about divorce we get a lot of text saying the rules aren’t fair, it’s loaded against men. Are the rules loaded against men, Marilyn in your experience?
MJS: Definitely not, definitely not. I think that on the whole speaking as generally as I can, men are wealthier, men have income and capital and the ability to rebuild their lives far better than women actually who on the whole don’t because they are at home, they have a lower income if they are earning, they are the ones who are generally the child carer and they’re the ones who never really move out of that lifestyle. Men who go out to work, who are the earners can do that. I’m sure there’s lots of people shouting at their radio saying “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about”, but I don’t think there’s any particular difference except where men can go on to rebuild, so there’s no bias.
AF: I actually find that one partner has behaved in a particularly bad way, they’re the one that’s had the affair, it doesn’t make a difference does it really who has behaved badly and who hasn’t?
MJS: Conduct is irrelevant; having an affair with somebody is irrelevant to a divorce settlement. Fault general is irrelevant to a divorce settlement, unless it is so bad, I had a case right at the beginning of my career where somebody stabbed somebody else in the neck, that was considered so bad that it did affect the financial settlement but having an affair doesn’t do it.
AF: What about people who just find divorce full stop too expensive. Susan has just said “she’s struggling to pay, she can’t get legal aid anymore” what do you do in that situation?
MJS: I would suggest the following. First of all she does need some legal advice. There are law firms all over the country who do give free legal advice, we do in our firm. She can perhaps get legal aid for mediation if she qualifies for legal aid and see if that works. But she’s got to have knowledge of the law, I’ve written a book actually for people who don’t qualify for legal aid and it’s available for 99p on Kindle, it’s called Divorce and Splitting Up and so it’s sold over eight thousand copies so people like it. But you need a background; you need to know where you’re going and then try to negotiate with your partner and if you can’t get anywhere, then follow process and go to court, don’t be frightened of going to court. Judges are used to dealing with people who have lawyers. The Bar, the Barristers they operate a pro bono system too for free representation, there’s lots of ways you can get free legal advice.
AF: What about a pre-nup then? All of these divorces, all of this hassle, would you advise people to get a pre-nup?
MJS: If you are a young couple getting married and both starting out with not very much then no, I wouldn’t. If you are a bit older, if you’ve got assets, if you’ve got and existing family and taking a second wife or a second husband and it’s a bit complicated in your family, I think a pre-nup is quite a good idea. You’ve got to sign a pre-nup with full knowledge of the financial position of both of you, you should ideally have advice, you shouldn’t be pressured into it and shouldn’t sign it too soon before the wedding then it is likely to be upheld.
AF: Marilyn, thank you very much for your time this morning. Marilyn Stowe, one of the UK’s leading divorce lawyers.