UK supreme court to consider impact of fraud in divorce settlements

Varsha Gohil and Alison Sharland seek to reopen cases, claiming ex-husbands misled divorce courts about true value of their assets.

Alison Sharland received £10m from her ex-husband when they divorced, believing it was half his fortune, before coming to the conclusion that his Manchester software company was worth many more millions of pounds.

Her case that she should have received significantly more from her former husband, Charles, opened in the supreme court on Monday. The 48-year-old from Wilmslow is bringing her action in conjunction with another woman who also believes her ex-husband concealed the true value of her wealth.

Varsha Gohil settled for £270,000 plus a car from her former husband, Bhadresh, in 2004 but it later became clear that her husband, who was tried and jailed for fraud and money-laundering sums of up to £37m, had not given the court accurate information about his finances.

In an extended, three-day hearing, the supreme court is this week examining their claims for significantly larger payouts. They allege they have been shortchanged and denied justice amid suggestions that such behaviour happens regularly in high-value divorce cases – and they argue that all ex-spouses should be entitled to reopen negotiations in a concluded divorce agreement.

A fear of “floodgates opening” and thousands of ex-partners attempting to renegotiate divorce settlements did not constitute legal grounds for refusing Alison Sharland’s request, her counsel, Martin Pointer QC, told the supreme court. “The resources had all been built up during the marriage. This was a plain case for equal sharing.”

Alison Sharland had accepted £10.35m in cash and properties from her ex-husband in the settlement but it later emerged that the shares in his company AppSense were worth considerably more than previously revealed.

One estimate put the firm’s value at $1bn (£656m), although lawyers at the time told the court that it was worth between £31m and £47m. Charles Sharland was found in an earlier case to have “laid a false trail by his dishonest evidence” and to have hidden the fact that he was considering floating the firm.

At the court of appeal the judges had agreed that Charles Sharland’s non-disclosure had been deliberate but two of the three believed they should not overturn the original settlement because although his evidence was “seriously misleading” it would not have led to a significantly different outcome.

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