Company Ownership of Assets in Divorce Disputes

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Divorce solicitor, Paul Jordan, reports on the latest Supreme Court ruling regarding company ownership of assets in divorce cases.

On the 12th June 2013, the Supreme Court thrust a police stinger under the tyres of a fast car chartered by the cheating husband and owner of the Nigerian oil company Petrodel. For background information read my previous piece – Hey Presto : It’s not fair!

Mrs Prest has good reason to be impressed with the outcome of her Appeal to the Supreme Court which has unanimously overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision. The court has declared that the 7 disputed properties vested in the husband’s Companies are held on trust for the husband and that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the properties were held by the husband’s companies on a resulting trust for the husband so were accordingly “property to which the(husband) is entitled, either in possession or reversion”; a legal ruling of great importance to Mrs Prest.

Lord Sumption, (described in the legal world as the “Brains of Britain” and who famously defended Roman Abramovich against a claim brought by fellow (now deceased) Russian, Oligarch Boris Berezovzky) gave the lead Judgment.

The Supreme Court decided that because the husband and his companies’ representatives, including himself, refused to provide full and open explanations about the acquisition of the 7 disputed properties, the most plausible inference from the known facts was that each of the properties was held on resulting trust by the companies for the husband. In view of what was described as “persistent obstruction and mendacity” by the husband, the Supreme Court made adverse inferences to the effect that the companies’ failure to co-operate was designed to protect the properties, which suggested that proper disclosure would have revealed them to have been owned by the husband and therefore to be taken into consideration in the divorce settlement.

So Mrs Prest has finally struck oil due to the “deceitful and shambolic” behaviour of the husband. However, someone faced with a genuine company owning spouse may not strike so lucky. Accordingly the ownership of assets by a company is set to continue to raise difficult issues for divorcing couples.

Paul Jordan is a Partner at Slee Blackwell Solicitors who specialises in advising on complex finance issues in relation to divorce. He is always happy to provide free initial guidance and can be contacted by telephone on 0808 139 1606 or by email at [email protected]