Vardags Managing Director, Catherine Thomas, dashed off to be interviewed on the 7 o’clock news on the hot topic of the Sharland and Gohil hearings that are getting underway at the Supreme Court.
As the dual cases go before the highest court in the land, Catherine talked through the issues at stake, and what the outcomes could mean for family law. She explained:
Both these women divorced their husbands, wanted the finances sorted out, started court proceedings but ultimately reached a settlement. That agreement was then approved by the court and then subsequently they found out their husbands had lied during the course of those proceedings. They both say: “therefore there was a fraud committed against us, we should be able to open the whole thing back up again.” The Court of Appeal, which is the most recent court to consider it, has said “no, in this case, you shouldn’t be able to, because even if you had that information at the time, it wouldn’t have made a substantial difference to the outcome.” So, these women have gone to the Supreme Court to say that this isn’t fair; in any other context where a fraud had been committed, an agreement would have fallen apart, so why would it be any different for us?
Divorcees are not allowed to conceal assets in a divorce proceeding:
Everyone is under an obligation to disclose exactly what they’re worth worldwide – their income, assets, debt, absolutely everything – but unfortunately the system is such at the moment that because there are rarely significant consequences for lying in these proceedings, people very often try it on because it’s worth their while trying to save themselves some money.
Catherine explained that this would most likely set a very significant precedent for divorce law:
As a matter of principal, they’re important in terms of sending a message to people that they can’t lie to the court, because at the moment you have this situation where these husbands have lied in the context of court proceedings and the court’s saying: “well, that was very naughty, but ultimately it’s not going to make any difference”. So I think that sends a very important message, if they overturn this: that the courts won’t put up with being lied to.
So what would happen if this does get overturned and the court finds in favour of the two women? What might these cases lead to? Catherine said:
I think there’s always going to be some element of proportionality here. For example, if you found that someone had lied about £10 in a dormant bank account, I don’t think that would enable you to open up a whole case. But where there are examples of significant lying, I think it should make a difference.
And how significant is it in terms of divorce law in the broader sense? Is there evidence of judges moving away from finding in favour of women?
“I think there’s a reputation in family law that husbands – as they very often have the money – are able to hide it and keep their spouse out of their rightful share. London is called the divorce capital of the world because it focuses on sharing – sharing the fruits of that marriage. Now that’s all very well on good, but you have to enforce that – you have to work out what the fruits of the marriage are in order for them to be shared – so there’s no point in us saying that homemaker and breadwinner are equal, which is what the law says, if that then isn’t followed through.”