Couples going through a divorce have an obligation to one another and the Court to be honest and forthcoming about their financial affairs. However, the issue of confidentiality has traditionally been something of a grey area.
It has been common practice for professional advisers to turn a blind eye to how their clients had come by photocopied documents or computer records relating to their ex-beloved’s most private financial affairs. Whilst not condoning the practice, the Court would very often allow the ill-gotten material in evidence to ensure a fair trial, subject to certain guidelines. This has now been swept away by a recent Court of Appeal decision which has reinforced the individual’s right to have their confidentiality not only respected, but protected. Many a spouse who has little confidence in their worse half’s good faith and openness might be tempted to regard this as a “cheat’s charter”.
What is clear is that, for the moment at least, spouses who seek to “help themselves” to the confidential financial information of the other are likely to run the risk of falling foul of the law. Each situation will inevitably be considered on its own facts and it is the Court that retains the ultimate discretion as to what information and documentation can be considered in support of a spouse’s financial claims.
Until the law relating to admissibility of improperly obtained evidence has been clarified further, the clear message is, don’t help yourself. Self help could easily lead to self-harm.
For further information on this legal topic or other issues relating to relationship breakdown and their financial consequences contact [email protected] or telephone him on 01271 349956.