Family lawyers will today be breathing a sigh of relief for their clients that the highest court in the land has today ruled that there is no room for dishonesty in matrimonial financial cases.
One of the cornerstones of family law is the duty imposed on a couple to be totally upfront about their financial circumstances not only to the other but also to the court. Without this, it would be impossible to arrive at fair and considered out of court financial settlements.
There were concerns from the earlier decisions on this case that, even where there was fraud, it was not a given that a financial settlement would be open to challenge. This appeared to provide an incentive for divorcing parties to be, shall we say, economical with the truth, in providing financial information.
If one of the divorcing couple seeks to hide information from the other or the court, the Supreme Court has made it clear that this will not be tolerated and that he or she can (in addition to any criminal punishment) expect any settlement reached to be reviewed.
The court has also very constructively, confirmed that “It is in everyone’s interests that matrimonial claims should be settled by agreement rather than by an adversarial battle in court. The financial resources of the family are not whittled away by the often substantial legal costs involved. The emotional resources of the family are not concentrated on conflict. The future relationship between the adult parties is not soured, or further soured, by that conflict. This is not only good for them but also for their children, whatever their ages, and for the wider family. It is for these reasons that there are processes, both within the procedures of the family court and independent of them, for helping the parties to reach agreement on the practical consequences of the breakdown of their relationship”.
This is a welcome reminder from the court of the significant benefits to divorcing couples of choosing to sort out their issues through non-court options, including mediation, the collaborative process and arbitration.
Whatever method is used to settle financial cases, the court has today emphasised that divorcing couples must be open and honest with each other and with the court or face serious consequences.