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'This judgment sends out the clear message that dishonesty will not be tolerated. Both women found themselves in an unfair situation where they were duped into accepting a smaller settlement than they may have been entitled to.Alison Sharland, 48, from Cheshire, said: “I am relieved and delighted that the Supreme Court judges have ruled in our favour. I hope that their decision sends out a message to everyone going through a divorce that they cannot lie in the family courts and get away with it.
Both husbands denied their dishonesty and hid behind highly technical arguments to avoid the consequences. In both cases, the Supreme Court has seen through those arguments to expose the true picture.
These cases were about a matter of principle and justice for both women and the issues raised in the Supreme Court will have implications in many other cases, including those with less money at stake.'
'It’s inevitable that other wives, husbands or civil partners who feel that they too have been misled during divorce proceedings will seek to bring their cases back to court, and we can expect to see a significant rise in the number of challenges to existing divorce settlements,' she added.
'But at the heart of these cases is a simple message: if you want finality in your divorce settlement (whether you agree it, or whether it is imposed by the court), don’t lie.
Our clients feel vindicated. Dishonesty in any legal proceedings should not be tolerated. We are thrilled that Supreme Court has confirmed that the Family Court is not an exception to the general rule and that it is no more acceptable to lie there than it is in any other court.'
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'My legal battle has never been about the money, it has always been a matter of principle. I entered into an agreement with my estranged husband thinking that it was a fair one. I believed that the net result was an equal division of our assets which had accrued during our marriage and so, in my opinion, fifty per cent was fair. Unfortunately, the evidence was manipulated by my estranged husband and it was not therefore possible to rely on the evidence of either of our accountants when considering the value of what I believe was and is the most valuable asset.'
The proceedings have dragged on and, at times, I have considered whether it was the right thing to do to continue my appeal, especially as there has been criticism about my pursuing the appeal because of the amount of the award which I originally received. However, I know that there are potentially others who are not in the same position as me financially, those who cannot afford to pursue a principle, and I wanted to pursue my appeal to ensure that they too are not faced with a situation where their spouse tells lies which potentially affects the outcome and interferes with achieving a just and fair settlement for either their husband or their wife and their family.
The courts have at last demonstrated that the English legal system will not allow dishonest spouses to mislead the court or their former partner. I believe that justice has been done.
I hope that I can now begin to move on with my life safe in the knowledge that my future divorce settlement will be based on the true value of our assets.'
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Toby Hales, the lawyer who represented Varsha Gohil at both Court of Appeal hearings, and is a Partner in the Family Team at law firm Seddons, comments as follows:
'There are absolutely no winners in divorce and more than a thought has to be given to the children of families locked in this type of litigation. The price they pay is a very heavy one. The emotional strain of it is huge on everyone, the drain in financial resources is enormous and none of it serves the family.
The court process is unfortunately geared towards those with financial means and I consider myself fortunate that to have been able to conduct most of my case on my own.
I am also particularly grateful to Ros Bever, Sally Harrison QC, Sam Hilla’s and Sheena Cassidy and all of the team at Irwin Mitchell who have believed in me and my case and at the eleventh hour they gave up their time to put in the tremendous hard work they have.
All spouses subject to deceit and deliberate financial skulduggery in a divorce owe a huge debt of gratitude to the tireless efforts of the legal team here today.'
'The Supreme Court has reinforced today, in two joined appeals, that in family proceedings people have a duty to disclose, fully and frankly, all details of their financial circumstances. Procedural and evidential technicalities will not be allowed to enable deliberate dishonesty.
The Court emphasises that this duty is owed by the litigant to their spouse but also to the Court itself, even if the parties have, ostensibly, reached agreement about their matrimonial affairs. Agreement reached on the basis of lies, misrepresentation and deception is no agreement at all, and will not be allowed to stand.
Today’s decision represents some welcome and long-overdue clarity in what is, ultimately, a complex and convoluted process. It reflects the feelings of most practitioners, and is an example of the Supreme Court taking a common sense approach to these complex issues, which will be welcomed and understood by most people who have occasion to come into contact with the family justice system.
For the individuals involved, however, the sense of relief may be fleeting. As the Court’s judgment makes clear, there are still enormous obstacles ahead of Varsha Gohil before she is able to achieve a fair outcome to her case. Having struggled for over a decade to achieve some measure of justice, while bringing up two children alone while their father was in prison, Varsha will now have to begin her claim again from scratch, without the help of legal aid, in proceedings that may stretch to four or five different legal jurisdictions.
Hopefully, these decisions will act as a warning to people to think twice before intentionally failing to disclose their assets. Justice has – quite rightly – been upheld.'