Secrets, lies and financial misconduct are the death of many a marriage. However, as one case showed, the truth will almost always out in divorce proceedings and judges are adept at bringing the consequences of such behaviour home to roost.
The case concerned a husband, aged 67, and a wife, aged 59, who were married for almost 30 years. Their marriage came to an abrupt end when the wife was arrested at the family home and subsequently convicted of assaulting the husband. She was barred from returning home by an indefinite restraining order and had spent about five years staying with friends and members of her family.
Her circumstances were tragic in that she had been diagnosed with alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver and was not a candidate for a liver transplant. Tests indicated a less than 50 per cent chance of her surviving more than a year. She was resident in a care home and wished to have enough money from her divorce to buy a home of her own where she could spend the time left to her in dignity and peace. The husband was also in poor health and was past retirement age.
Ruling on the financial consequences of the divorce, a judge noted that the wife was in sole charge of the couple’s finances throughout the marriage. She had concealed a wide range of financial transactions from the husband that were to her benefit and his detriment. Without his knowledge, she used his name and personal details and at times even copied his signature in order to obtain cash. In doing so, she deceived both the husband and financial institutions from which she received money.
The judge found that, through her misconduct, the wife had caused a financial loss to the husband of no less than £160,000 and that it would be unfair to disregard that finding when dividing up the marital assets. These had been heavily depleted by her misconduct and the £286,000 equity in the former matrimonial home was insufficient to meet both their expressed needs.
The wife had failed to make full and frank disclosure of her financial position despite having been given every opportunity to do so. Her care home placement was state funded and the judge found that she was able to meet all her needs and living expenses from a source of income that she had not disclosed.
The judge directed that the former matrimonial home should be transferred into the husband’s sole name and granted his application for a clean break as to both capital and income. After taking into account the wife’s financial misconduct, the available liquid assets were divided 38 per cent to her and 62 per cent to the husband.