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(Family Division, Jonathan Cohen QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, 13 February 2013)
During financial remedy proceedings a preliminary issues hearing was scheduled to determine who was the owner of the matrimonial property and if it was owned by a company, who was the beneficial owner of the shares in that company.
The husband's father was a successful and wealthy businessman and the husband worked alongside the father in his company. The father made a contribution to the deposit for a property in which the family lived and was placed in the name of a company, the name of which comprised the initials of the wife and children. The husband claimed the father had no interest in the company. When that property was sold the proceeds were placed in an account in the husband's sole name.
The matrimonial home was purchased for £3.8m and placed in the name of a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands of which the husband was the sole shareholder. The wife claimed that she agreed to this course upon the advice of the conveyancing solicitors and the husband's assertion that it would make no practical difference to them whether the property was in both their names as originally intended or in the company name. The marriage came to an end upon the discovery of the wife's affair with a well-known sportsman. She continued to live in the matrimonial property with the sportsman and was expecting his child.
The judge rejected any suggestion that beneficial ownership of the property in anyway vested in the father. On the evidence the beneficial interest did not pass to the BVI company due to the lack of any tax advantage in the scheme, the husband's assertions to the wife, the couple's personal liabilities arising under the mortgage and the absence of any consideration for a transfer of the beneficial interest. Due to their original intention that the property should be placed in both the husband and wife's names and the contribution of monies plus liabilities the property was beneficially owned by them both.
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