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Family Law Case Puts Document Disclosure In Spotlight

High Court Hearing ‘Highlights Need To Take Legal Advice’


By Rob Dixon

An ongoing High Court case in which it has been claimed that a woman opened her husband’s safe without his knowledge in order to access documents related to his assets highlights the need for those going through a divorce to always seek specialist legal advice.

The High Court yesterday (June 25th) prevented a wife from using documents she took from her husband's locked safe during divorce proceedings. Mr Justice Moylan QC found that she had seriously breached her duty of candour by failing to mention how she had come by these documents.

Following the decision, he also refused to reconfirm an injunction which was granted in February and froze £20 million of the husband’s assets after he allegedly threatened to hide his true wealth from her if she divorced him.

It was heard that the wife took the action to protect herself in the forthcoming divorce, but her original affidavit did not mention this. It is reported that the husband is now taking legal action against the wife for damages for breach of confidence and misuse of private information.

Louise Halford, a Partner and specialist in family law at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office, said the case of Imerman in 2010 had set standards in terms of the acceptability of obtaining and using documents belonging to a spouse in divorce proceedings.

She outlined: “The Imerman decision has been referred to in some circles as a ‘Cheats Charter’ and concern has been expressed it will encourage the financially stronger party to breach the duty to give full and frank disclosure and instead conceal wealth, safe in the knowledge that if the spouse obtains documents illegally, he or she will be prevented from using them against the other party.

“This case highlights the paramount importance of taking specialist legal advice if there are suspicions of clandestine behaviour and the hiding of assets in a divorce

“The Court has significant powers to ensure that both parties provide full and frank disclosure of all relevant information and documents to each other and to the Court. If a party takes matters into their own hands by breaching their spouse’s right to confidentiality, they can seriously prejudice their own cases and face claims for damages or even criminal prosecution.”

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