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The High Court has lamented the expenditure of almost £1 million in legal costs by a warring ex-couple whose acrimonious divorce had descended into a murky world of lies, private detectives, hidden assets and mutual accusations of skulduggery and assault.
The husband, an oil industry executive, had accused the wife of punching him in the face as they squabbled over the division of their £4 million in assets in a London hotel room. He said that he had awoken to find her holding a pillow over his face, but she countered with claims that he had pushed her across the room into a wall.
He admitted telling a ‘big lie’ in failing to disclose more than £500,000 he had in an offshore bank account. However, he accused his wife of hacking his computer and orchestrating a burglary at his home in an attempt to find out what he was really worth.
The ex-couple had between them already spent more than £950,000 on legal costs – almost a quarter of their liquid assets – and the Court observed, “To state that the litigation is likely to have proved to be a financial disaster for this family is an understatement.”
The former couple were together for 12 years and had three children. Their marriage was ended by a decree absolute, but that did not bring to an end their venomous financial wrangling. The ex-wife claimed that her former husband had millions stashed away whilst he accused her of disposing of matrimonial assets at far less than their true value and profligately spending the proceeds.
The Court found that the wife was likely to have realised that, when she put private inquiry agents on the husband’s trail, ‘unorthodox and possibly illegal methods were likely to be used to elicit information about his finances’. However, whilst not in any way condoning her conduct, the Court noted that her actions ‘undoubtedly had their root in the husband’s defective disclosure’. The wife was ‘not directly or personally responsible’ for the break-in at the husband’s home or for hacking his computer and, despite the husband’s ‘admitted lies’, the Court found that he had belatedly come clean about his true wealth. The wife had herself not been frank about money but she should not be penalised for that, given the husband’s own ‘appalling’ conduct. The wife had sold matrimonial property for less than it was worth and the Court directed that her side of the divorce balance sheet should be debited accordingly. Of the hotel room fracas, the Court observed, “Each played a part in the events as they unfolded and, in the course of the physical altercation, each was culpable.”
The task of totting up exactly how the matrimonial assets should be divided between the parties was left to their respective legal teams in the light of the Court’s ruling.