A landmark Court of Appeal decision could result in divorce settlements based on false information being overturned, according to a Lancashire-based specialist lawyer.
A ruling in favour of a woman claiming her ex-civil partner lied about the size of her fortune has enormous implications for all couples, according to David Connor, private client partner at Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall Solicitors in Rawtenstall.
He believes Bolton woman Helen Roocroft’s victory in the latest round of her battle to overturn the original settlement has repercussions for everyone in long-term relationships.
The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Ms Roocroft, who accepted a settlement of about £200,000 after an 18-year same-sex relationship with property developer Carol Ainscow ended in 2009.
However, Ms Roocroft claims Ms Ainscow, who died three years ago, “misrepresented her wealth” and began legal action against her former partner’s estate in order to have the original settlement set aside.
The family court ruled against Ms Roocroft two years ago, but now three appeal court judges have decided the case should be reviewed by a high court judge.
David Connor said: “The case highlights the importance of being open and honest about financial matters in divorce or other settlement proceedings. It shows that if you are found to have been untruthful or evasive, you could be open to further claims in the future.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that this case also relates to posthumous - after death - situations. It clearly illustrates that there is no time limit on renegotiating financial settlements and making fresh financial claims.”
David Connor added: “The success of these cases hinges on the claimant proving their ex-spouse or civil partner was deliberately dishonest about financial disclosure in the divorce or break-up settlement in a bid to conceal their assets.”
The case also underlines the advantages of drawing up a pre-nup or cohabitation agreement setting out who brought what to the relationship, and what will happen to the assets in the event of a split, whether you are a couple living together, in a marriage or a civil partnership.
David Connor added: “If you do not have a formal legal arrangement in place and you end up having to go to court to resolve your separation settlement, the judge will presume equality whether you have been in a long relationship, marriage or civil partnership.”
In Ms Roocroft’s case, the appeal court judges made their ruling following a supreme court decision about two ex-wives who believed they should get more money after their divorces. Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil reached agreements with their ex-husbands but subsequently took the view that they had been misled.
Both women alleged their ex-husbands had failed to disclose the full value of their wealth and wanted their claims reanalysed by the court. Their ex-husbands disputed this, but the supreme court justices ruled in the women’s favour. As a result, legal experts believe there will be many more similar cases.