Honesty, Disclosure And Divorce
Published on 16 May, 2022 | Heidi Molloy
“Honesty”, so the saying goes, “is the best policy”.
Whilst that can be regarded as a basic element of all social or commercial interaction, it is an absolute requirement of legal processes.
The rules governing divorce, for instance, are clear about the obligations on separating spouses to be forthcoming about all material facts.
One document – Form E, the statement setting out the respective positions – puts it bluntly: spouses “have a duty to the court to give a full, frank and clear disclosure of all your financial and other relevant circumstances” (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/953463/form-e-eng.pdf).
That is because the information provided is used to determine the financial arrangements for husbands and wives once they divorce.
The issue of disclosure has reared its head because of media coverage of a recent court ruling involving the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen.
He had claimed in court that he had been forced out of a family vegetable business, AB Produce, by his brother.
However, a judge has described that allegation as a lie. The Times reported that Judge Brian Rawlings concluded instead that Mr Bridgen had quit the company because “he thought it might reduce the amount he owed his first wife, Jackie, 57, in divorce proceedings” (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/12ba7432-bdb8-11ec-84c4-70cc6ae427fb?shareToken=380f9acaa458d6d046689ddb01b76b80).
Not telling the truth in divorce proceedings or failing to engage with them altogether can have a number of different and very serious consequences.
The process can be difficult enough for some couples without having to come to terms with a spouse’s refusal to divulge all the material required.
Trying to obtain those details can not only lead to a breach of trust but result in a divorce becoming protracted and even more emotionally and psychologically stressful.
It can also be more fractious and more costly too, as the need to pursue vital information impacts on the legal fees involved.
That is, of course, not the best way to separate after what might have been a lengthy marriage.
It certainly doesn’t exactly set the right tone either for relations – including those with any children involved – once the terms of a divorce are ironed out.
Perhaps just as significantly are the potential financial and legal ramifications.
Where such conduct contributes to a divorce taking much longer than it should, an order for costs may be made against the spouse responsible.
If deliberate non-disclosure is discovered once a settlement has been agreed, then the court order confirming the terms of that settlement can even be set aside, causing discussions about a couple’s finances to effectively go back to the start.
More than that, the Family Procedure Rules indicate that someone making a false statement during divorce proceedings can be held to be in contempt of court.
The range of sanctions open to the court can include imprisonment, fines, confiscation of assets or “other punishment permitted under the law” (https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/parts/part-37-applications-and-proceedings-in-relation-to-contempt-of-court).
Anyone imagining that the most severe of those penalties is merely a deterrent should think again.
Six years ago, Vincent Daley was sentenced to three months’ in prison for failing to complete and file his Form E financial statement (https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B78.html).
It is not yet known whether either the terms of Andrew Bridgen’s divorce or his conduct will be revised or reviewed in the light of the AB Produce ruling.
Even so, the case should act as a reminder to anyone contemplating divorce that the temptation not to be “full, frank and clear” in disclosure should be avoided at all costs.
Although such behaviour might seem in someone’s best interests, it really isn’t.
In addition to the prospect of a longer, more expensive and antagonistic divorce, a possible jail term is surely not the postscript to a marriage which any spouse wants.