One of the unsavoury features of many big money divorce cases is a reluctance to disclose financial information without which a fair outcome cannot be achieved. As a withering High Court ruling against a stubborn husband showed, however, family judges have all the powers they need to deal with such behaviour.
The case concerned a wealthy ex-couple, both of them German nationals. After the wife issued a divorce petition in England, the case proceeded at a glacial pace, entirely due to obstacles the husband sought to put in the wife’s path. Only after he failed in a challenge to the jurisdiction of the English courts to entertain the petition was the wife able to proceed with her claim for financial remedies.
During a preliminary hearing, the wife sought disclosure of numerous documents kept on a flash drive which she had found in the couple’s safety deposit box in a Swiss bank. A copy of the drive’s contents had been kept by the wife’s German lawyers, but the husband resisted their disclosure in the English proceedings.
The husband argued that the documents were commercially sensitive and belonged to his employer, a private equity firm of which he was the managing director. Their disclosure, he claimed, would put his job at risk and expose him to a claim for damages and potential criminal sanctions under German law.
In dismissing those untenable arguments, however, the Court noted that, although the firm had found its way into the ownership of a close friend of the husband, the latter was its founder and original owner. There was absolutely no risk of disclosure of the documents leading to the husband’s prosecution and the idea that the firm would either sack him or sue him was merely fanciful.
Consistent with his attitude from the inception of the case, the husband was seeking to mount a spurious filibuster in bad faith. In the circumstances, the Court authorised the wife’s German lawyers to disclose the documents to her English solicitors and thence to the Court.