How can a court award an ex wife £2.7m 10 years after her divorce? This is a salutary lesson for everyone who contemplates divorce proceedings without getting proper legal advice.
Clothing entrepreneur Glenn Briers built up a £10 million fashion empire but is now very unhappy with how he has been treated by the British justice system. Recently, more than a decade after the 61 year old & his wife divorced, he was ordered to pay her £2.7 million of the fortune he had built up — despite having already given her the £600,000 family house, a £10,000-a-year salary and child maintenance for their three children when his company was worth little more than £1million in 2005.
The ruling by three Appeal Court judges, is an important one, for until last week a wife who made a claim on a husband’s hard-earned fortune years after a decree absolute had been granted, might, if she was lucky, receive something for her basic needs. In this case, 12 years after the original divorce settlement that he believed was binding, Glenn’s 58-year-old ex-wife, Nicola, was awarded a share of his riches that many people believe goes far beyond the needs of a retired teacher with no dependants, a pension and a mortgage-free barn conversion.
The Judge described Mr Briers as ‘psychologically controlling’ and ‘a liar’ who was ‘dismissive’ of his ex-wife’s contribution to the family wealth and had ‘misled’ her into accepting less than her due. he vehemently challenges these accusations.
He now lives in a £425,000 barn conversation a mile from his Willenhall headquarters in the West Midlands, where he employs 18 staff, including his son and younger daughter.
Where did it go wrong?
Mr Briers challenged the decision, insisting his ex-wife should get a £500,000 lump sum at most. Pointing to the decade-long delay in her asking for more, he argued that it was far too late for her to go back on their ‘clean break’. But last month three senior judges ordered him to pay the full £2.7 million.
Had he tied up their 2005 divorce agreement legally, it is almost certain that his ex wife would not have had a case to bring.
They married in 1987 and their son, now 29, was born the year he started his business with £81, basing it in the family garage. Spotting the growing trend for sportswear, he began buying end-of-line garments and selling them on. By the time the youngest daughter was born in 1991, the company was successful enough for him to lease a warehouse and give up teaching.
In 2001, the couple decided to separate. Glenn says he bought a £119,000 house a mile from the family home, but continued to pay the mortgage and give his wife a £10,000-a-year salary. Two years later, having started a new relationship, Nicola asked for a divorce. They reached an informal agreement that
- he would pay her £150,000 to pay off the mortgage
- he would keep the business
- she would receive a £10,000 salary & £330 per month for each chile
Solicitors were instructed and an agreement drawn up but, critically, it was never signed.
What happened next?
The business thrived with the net profit of £178,730 in 2004 more than quadrupled to £920,577 in 2011.
The three Court of Appeal judges unanimously ruled that Mr Briers had not honestly disclosed his assets to Mrs Briers.
They concluded that a full and final settlement of the couple’s financial affairs had never been concluded, and that his failure to honestly disclose his assets meant Mrs Briers had not given her informed consent to the settlement.
When the judgment was given in April 2015, Glenn was ordered to pay his ex-wife a lump sum of £1.6 million and hand over 25 per cent of his pension.
Sam Bushell Head of Family Law at Brown Turner Ross commented:
"This decision of the Court of Appeal is a warning to everyone contemplating a divorce and doing so without proper legal advice. Whatever your situation, it is imperative that following a divorce, you deal with your finances formally. If you do not do so, then at any point in the future, no matter what your circumstances then are, you can be open to attack. These cases are becoming more regular. Obviously, horror stories on this scale are less commonplace but we only hear of the ones that hit the headlines. It is essential that both husbands and wives should look at protecting themselves in the long term particularly after a long marriage where children have been born.
It is also a lesson demonstrating how vital full and frank straight forward disclosure is - experienced divorce lawyers know what to look for and how to ensure that assets are not concealed or under valued. A proper investigative approach would have resulted in
- complete disclosure of both parties assets being made
- those assets being properly valued
- a fair agreement being negotiated that could then have been approved by a court as an Order binding on both parties."
If you want advice on any family law issue especially relating to financial & property disputes contact Sam Bushell on 0800 195 7517