Landmark ruling over civil partner’s wealth claim

Family in a park discussing the future as a family

The Court of Appeal has today made a crucial decision after a woman discovered when her civil partner died that she had hidden assets during financial negotiations in the process of the dissolution of their relationship.

The Court of Appeal decided that Helen Roocroft has the right to argue for her settlement to be set aside in the first case to consider the discovery of the non-disclosure of assets after the death of one of the parties.

Ms Roocroft sought to set aside the original “unfair” decision after she discovered information that showed Carol Ainscow’s assets were potentially worth nearly seven times more than originally stated when the parties disclosed their financial positions to each other.

Ms Roocroft was in an 18-year relationship with Ms Ainscow when they separated in 2009. Ms Ainscow’s company Artisan carried out various property developments across the UK but she said she had lost millions of pounds during the property crash.

Ms Ainscow died in 2013 without a will (this is termed intestate), which meant her elderly mother was the first in line to benefit from her estate.

Documents later showed Ms Ainscow may have misled the courts regarding her wealth. Ms Roocroft had accepted a settlement much lower than that to which she was entitled, and she sought legal advice as to whether she was entitled to a bigger portion of Ms Ainscow’s fortune.

The case demonstrates the importance of providing an honest assessment of the assets at the start of financial negotiations. It does now appear the courts will consider cases being reopened in the light of new evidence and will have the power to set aside decisions.

In the Supreme Court last year, the cases of Sharland and Gohil demonstrated the above in heterosexual relationships, where the wives challenged their financial divorce settlements after their husbands were found to have significantly misled them regarding their assets.

Roocroft v Ainscow demonstrates the same rights for same-sex couples, which was reiterated in Baroness Hale’s confirmation in today’s judgment. Interestingly, the case also confirms that, even after the death of a spouse, a divorce or dissolution settlement can be challenged in certain circumstances, i.e. if the full extent of one of the parties’ wealth is not revealed during the negotiation process.

When relationships break down, it is crucial that parties sort out their financial settlement and that this is dealt with honestly. Whether matters are agreed through negotiations, mediation or the Court process, it is important a consent order is drafted together with a statement of information form providing the values of their assets. In the above case, evidence was submitted by Ms Roocroft that Ms Ainscow’s income at the time of the consent order was substantially more than she had in her statement of information form. Clearly this dishonesty will not be tolerated by the courts.

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