Two ex-wives - who say they were duped into accepting ‘unfair’ divorce settlements - appeared before the Supreme Court this week to fight a case that will act as a precedent on how dishonesty is treated in family courts.
Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil appeared before seven justices in the court as they sought to set aside their divorce settlements on the basis that they were deliberately misled during the original hearings.
The outcome is likely to have a wide-reaching impact for those in similar situations and could open up further challenges over divorce settlements, lawyers say.
Ros Bever, a divorce lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘Both cases raise serious issues about how the courts should handle situations where information shared with the court and used to agree a divorce settlement is later found to be false or incomplete.
‘We believe the position that both women find themselves in is unfair and that is why we are taking their cases to the Supreme Court.’
She explained that the law is ‘fairly unclear’ about when a lack of disclosure is enough to set aside an agreement.
In Gohil’s case a criminal trial revealed that her husband had intentionally failed to disclose his finance in the divorce proceedings where a settlement of £270,000 and a car was agreed.
In 2012 the High Court agreed to scrap the settlement, but a later hearing in the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the husband, saying that because courts were not allowed to use evidence from the criminal trial they could not prove he was being dishonest in the original proceedings.
In the second case Sharland agreed to a 50/50 split in her divorce settlement. But it later emerged that her ex-husband had misled her and the courts over the value of his business and future IPO flotation.
The appeal court ruled that they could not overturn the original settlement, as the non-disclosure would not have led to a different outcome.
Carmel Brown, family lawyer at Thomas Eggar, said: ‘It is likely that if the Supreme Court overrules the previous divorce settlements in these two cases, we may see many people trying to re-open their final settlements owing to their former spouses’ dishonest disclosure, in a similar way that Vince v Wyatt caused a flood of delayed claims from spouses whose claims for financial provision had been left open for decades after a divorce.’