You couldn’t make it up, it is an often used prefix to a spellbinding yarn – The Bishop, The Banker and the Divorce.
This applies to some of the many divorce cases that have been in the headlines over the last 12 months.
Many of those centre around the dramatic consequences for those going through a divorce and who fail to give the Courts ‘full and frank disclosure’ (key words) of their financial positions.
The reluctance to give such disclosure is perhaps in keeping with the human instinct for self-preservation.
However there isn’t a single individual going through a divorce in the country today, who shouldn’t have received very stern advice that such disclosure is absolutely essential and a case can’t even come close to a conclusion until such disclosure has been complied with.
Hide and seek
Even so there will always be those who try to hide assets and there will always be those who spend ‘24/7’ ‘hunting down’ such undisclosed assets. Much of what a divorce lawyer does boils down to this endeavour. The conduct of a few of the individuals who appear to have gone to great lengths to hide assets comes as no surprise.
But a Bishop?
That a man of the cloth has been criticised for failing to disclose ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds in off-shore accounts’ probably indicates that the temptation and ultimately the practice may affect anyone.
In this case in which His Reverence cannot be identified for legal reasons, the Judge’s remark that his disclosure had been ‘lamentable and not frank’ is likely to cause the bushy eyebrow of his Archbishop to rise in indication of the gravest concerns.
The Most Reverend Bishop was living in £825,000.00 home in South West London, which had initially been ordered to be transferred to his estranged wife……’plus some properties he owned abroad’.
The Role of the Judge
So the temptation to avoid full and frank disclosure appears to know few boundaries. What lawyers can struggle with, where some clients are concerned, is respectfully but firmly ensuring their clients understand that such disclosure is central to their case.
The Judge who hears their case may have heard hundreds of excuses before and knows what temptation they are presented with.
In many cases they will have acted for spouses trying to discover assets and know exactly what questions to raise and what orders to make.
Their mood upon being presented with a previously high earning spouse who asserts that on the eve of their divorce their wealth duly plummeted, may range from mild amusement to extreme irritation. The former often stimulated by the lack of originality being employed.
And Judges are not scared to use the ultimate sanction of imprisonment.
There will always be people who try, and not surprisingly there is no data for those who ‘get away with it’. Judges are not fools and one course of conduct tends to be accompanied by another and before long a picture emerges that is not necessarily in keeping with that which the lawyer is endeavouring to portray. Then the client is in dangerous territory.
It is surprising how many people actually fail to understand that the Judges word (subject to appeal) is final.
One can pass through this process blaming everybody but oneself but ultimately the responsibility for disclosure is that of the party to the divorce. As the Judge in this case commented ‘adverse inferences were drawn that his disclosure was found to be lamentable and not frank’.
‘Adverse inferences’? In the absence of disclosure, an individual is deemed to be possessed of a given asset and a more generous order will be made to the opponent in respect of these immovable assets that have been disclosed (i.e. property). And even if a party to a divorce avoids adverse inferences at the first hearing, that isn’t the end of the matter.
Any order made on the basis of false facts or inadequate disclosure can be subject to an appeal at any time in the future and thus uncertainty hangs over the deceitful like the ‘Sword of Damocles’. We know not what is the Bishop’s fate, but he would have been wise to have fully and frankly disclosed his assets at the outset.
Nigel C Winter is a partner in the Family Department of Rawlison Butler solicitors, based in the South East of England. He has been practicing family law for over two decades, is a collaborative lawyer and a regular contributor to a wide variety of publications on Divorce and Family Law.
He has been practicing family law for over 2 decades, is a Collaborative lawyer and a regular contributor to a wide variety of publications on divorce and family law.
Disclaimer – This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.