The BBC’s Millionaires’ Ex-Wives Club followed the stories of two high profile divorce cases, with interviews with two of the wives themselves (Lisa Tchenguiz and Michelle Young) and practitioners in the world of ultra-high net worth divorce.
Mrs Young pursued her £26 million award after 11 years of litigation, 65 court hearings and was declared bankrupt after incurring legal costs of £6 million, plus £10 million in interest. After four years of litigation in all three High Court Divisions, Mrs Tchenguiz agreed a settlement of £15 million out of what she argued was a £250 million marital pot.
Contrasting themes emerged:
The Young case represented an extreme example of non-disclosure on the part of a husband, with the judge, Mr Justice Moor, commenting that ‘in many respects, this is about as bad an example of how not to litigate as any I have ever encountered’. In January 2013, Mr Young was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court, after serial failures to answer questions regarding the location and value of his assets.
By contrast, fearing the husband’s anticipated non-disclosure, in Imerman v Tchenguiz, Mrs Tchenguiz’s brothers hacked into the husband’s computer server and made electronic copies of documents stored by the husband on his computer. The Court of Appeal warned of the dangers of a party taking the law into their own hands, even if they feared that the other spouse would not provide full and frank disclosure, and made it clear that such behaviour could comprise a criminal offence and be the basis of a civil claim for breach of confidence. The court also confirmed that the Family Court could exclude evidence that had been illegally obtained.
The documentary included a recording of an extraordinary telephone call between Mr and Mrs Young. During the call Mr Young appeared to offer £30 million to settle the case. Ms Young rejects the overture and highlights possible criminal charges and the involvement of HMRC.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is worth considering Mrs Young’s position had she accepted the offer assuming, for the sake of argument, it was actually achievable and would have been paid. If subsequent evidence had shown that Mr Young had misled the court regarding his assets, it is arguable that she would not have been held to any deal. The Supreme Court held in Sharland that ‘fraud unravels all’ and could undermine the basis of a consent order.
Mrs Tchenguiz, whilst acknowledging that she had independent means, described the emotional and financial value of concluding litigation rather than fighting on.
The cases taken together underline the necessity in any case (whether big money or otherwise) to keep the door open to settlement, whether that is through ‘without prejudice’ (private) negotiations or mediation with the assistance of a qualified mediator. It is when divorce is looked on as a war, ignoring the possibility of compromise, that no-one emerges as the victor.