A recent Court of Appeal case has put a stop to fishing, stating that spouses involved in divorce proceedings cannot use their ex’s financial information which they have come by without their ex’s knowledge.
We know that divorce cases can get messy and the issue of money is often top of the list. A common concern is that your ex is hiding money or assets. It is only a small step to think that if she/he has been untrustworthy in the marriage then she/he must be untrustworthy when it comes to money. Up until this case it was normal for one spouse to try and obtain financial information about the other spouse because there was a fear that the other spouse would not make full disclosure of his/her assets and income. In this case, the Court commented that both parties have a duty to make full and frank financial disclosure in divorce proceedings and therefore, there should be no reason for a fishing exercise.
This decision may have a serious impact on divorce cases, the extent to which will become clearer over time, as other similar cases come before the Courts.
As a result of this case, spouses are not allowed to look at or make hard copies, or send it to yourself by e-mail, of information held on your ex’s computer. Likewise you are not allowed to enter their business premises to remove property or to intercept their ex’s correspondence. If you provide your solicitor with information obtained in this way, he should not read the material and should return it to the other party of his/her solicitor.
If information has been obtained through fishing your spouse may be able to obtain an injunction to stop you relying on such information but this will depend upon his/her conduct, such as whether there has been a deliberate attempt to conceal assets. It may be arguable that evidence obtained unlawfully, should be allowed in financial remedy proceedings, where the welfare of children is concerned.
As solicitors we will have to now consider obtaining search orders and to make applications for third parties to provide information. If you think that your ex is dissipating the assets, your solicitor can make an application for a freezing order but you will have to verify how you believe assets are being dissipated. So, no more fishing! A spouse who tries to obtain information unlawfully could be liable to criminal penalties, and also be at risk of being sued in civil proceedings for breach of confidence and misuse of private material.
If you have any issues relating to money and assets and would like to speak to Shakeel about how your position in relation to getting divorced please contact Shakeel on 020 8956 2655 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.