Divorcees who accused ex-husbands win Supreme Court fight to seek more money
Two divorcees who accused their ex-husbands of lying about their true wealth have won their Supreme Court battle for the right to seek more money from them.
In a landmark ruling which lawyers said could open the floodgates for similar claims, the UK's highest court upheld challenges by Alison Sharland, 48, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, and Varsha Gohil, 50, from north London.
One justice, Lady Hale, said Mrs Sharland had been a "victim of a fraudulent misrepresentation".
Mrs Sharland said afterwards: "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.
"My legal battle has never been about the money, it has always been a matter of principle. I entered in to 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, 50% 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."
Mrs Gohil said: "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 to have been able to conduct most of my case on my own."
She added: "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 had heard that both women had reached agreements with their ex-husbands after beginning litigation, but both subsequently thought that they had been misled.
Mrs Sharland had accepted more than £10 million in cash and properties from her ex-husband Charles, 54, three years ago.
Mrs Gohil had accepted £270,000 plus a car from her ex-husband Bhadresh, 50, more than a decade ago.
The court heard that Mrs Sharland claimed she was misled over the value of a business. Lawyers said she had thought the business was valued at between £31 million and £47 million but reports in the financial press put the value at £1 billion.
Mrs Gohil's husband had been convicted of money laundering following their divorce.
Neither woman has yet said how much they now want.
Supreme Court justices indicated that both women's claims would return to the High Court for further consideration.
They had analysed each case separately following hearings in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented both women, said the Supreme Court decision would have implications.
"This judgment sends out the clear message that dishonesty will not be tolerated," said solicitor Ros Bever, who works for Irwin Mitchell.
"Both women found themselves in an unfair situation where they were duped into accepting a smaller settlement than they may have been entitled to.
"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."
She added: "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."
Mr Sharland was said to be "disappointed".
"We believe that this decision marks a fundamental change in the law," said lawyer James Brown, a partner with JMW Solicitors, who represented Mr Sharland.
"Family law is complicated and entirely discretionary and there could be a danger that this change may open the floodgates to thousands of couples revisiting the agreements they reached.
"On a personal level Mr Sharland is bitterly disappointed that his family will continue to be locked in litigation for the foreseeable future."