A woman has won a court battle for half her marital home after being unknowingly divorced from a man who tried to claim they had only been in a relationship for a short time.
The wife launched legal action against her former husband after it emerged he duped her into a divorce and intended to leave her with hardly any share of £600,000 worth of assets.
The High Court in Belfast heard yesterday that the woman unwittingly signed separation papers.
At one stage, the Co Antrim man told her that their home had to be transferred into his sole name because he was under financial investigation, she alleged.
Although neither the man nor woman can be identified, the case centred on conflicting accounts of how long they were together as a couple.
He claimed they were in a brief relationship and then got back together again 18 years later.
After getting married and living together for a short period they separated and divorced, he alleged.
But the woman contended they had been in a cohabiting relationship for over 20 years. She said their divorce only came to her attention when another woman her husband was seeing turned up at her home and told her.
A judge who decided the couple's settlement described it as the most unusual case of its type he had ever dealt with. Under the terms of his ruling published yesterday, the value of the 60-acre marital home is to be split 50/50 between them.
The husband is to get 70% of any other assets acquired by him, with 30% going to his ex-wife, including cash and a property. He is also facing a legal bill of up to £250,000.
In his judgment, Master Charles Redpath said: "The late Charles Haughey, formerly Taoiseach, when describing an unusual set of circumstances, coined the acronym Gubu; standing for grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.
"That acronym could apply to this particular case."
He set out the wife's allegations that her husband secured a divorce without her knowledge at Ballymena County Court by fraudulently getting her to sign documents which also involved a financial settlement under which she received virtually nothing.
She claimed he transferred the matrimonial home into his sole name in return for a grossly undervalued £20,000 payment.
By that stage, in December 2005, the husband allegedly told her he was about to be investigated by the Assets Recovery Agency.
The court heard he was sacked from his job in Northern Ireland Water. Master Redpath identified the issues as being the former couple's credibility about how long they spent together, and the effect of cohabiting on estimated assets in excess of £600,000.
He held that the husband lied in evidence. Their relationship effectively ended in 2006 when another woman turned up at the wife's house and revealed the divorce. The women then headed together into the fields to confront him as he worked on a cattle pen.
Master Redpath said the husband will almost inevitably have to pay the bulk of a legal bill.
"In the event that he is condemned in costs my view is that given the continuing fall in property prices he may well be very fortunate to have any assets left whatsoever at the end of this case."