It is a well established principle that in divorce or separation cases, where family finances are considered, that there is a duty of full and frank disclosure between the parties. There are however, frequent cases where one party claims that the other has failed to disclose “hidden” assets such as bank accounts, investments and even foreign property.
Sometimes it is not easy to identify assets and it can cost a considerable amount of both time and money to pursue these claims, even where there is a strong belief that the asset in question exists. Often there is either no proof that the asset actually exists or there actually is no asset. It can take a brave team to pursue someone who is proving obstinate and often the party hiding the asset just digs his or her heels in until the other party gives up.
There is always the right to return a settlement to court if a non-disclosure is later identified, but this can be very expensive and involves a potential re-litigation of the whole case. Even then there are strict rules which limit the ability to return the matter to court.
The courts have rarely exercised the full extent of their powers, such as by ordering the miscreant to pay the costs of wasted litigation, or by the more serious punishment of holding people in contempt of court for non-disclosure, which has occasionally lead to imprisonment, but only for a very limited period.
That may well change in the future though as the courts powers have recently been exercised to their full extent by the jailing of a husband, Scot Young, for a ‘flagrant’ contempt of court in long-running financial remedy proceedings with his former wife. See the judgement here.
This should serve as a warning to spouses that the courts are more inclined to take a stronger role in the matter of case management – something that they have been undertaking in non-family cases for a considerable time. Feeble excuses, referred to by the judge as “absurd” and “next to useless” will no longer be accepted. Mr Young was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.
It is vital that you engage specialist advisors in marital situations as the wrong advice, or indeed lack of advice, can be costly both in terms of money and liberty.
If you would like advice on how this decision may affect you or require advice on any other matrimonial matter, please contact a member of our Family team on 01625 442100.