Will the court know that you are lying?
I thought I would share the result of a long running case that I have been dealing with which saw a very successful outcome this week. I have been acting on behalf of a father with his application for contact with his daughter, now aged 10. He has not seen his daughter for over 4 years now. The mother had been obstructive with regards to contact and failed to encourage the daughter to see her father. The mother further portrayed him as a ‘monster’ causing her to become so scared of her father that she refused to see him. The mother claimed that she had been the victim of domestic violence during the marriage and that the daughter had witnessed some of those incidents which caused the daughter to refuse contact with her father. Following evidence from both parties and the professionals at court, it became quite clear to the Judge that the child had been manipulated and influenced by her mother. The mother had lied to her daughter about various issues since the parties had separated. Furthermore, the child had been allowed to solely decide whether she wanted to see her father when she was only 5 years old. The Judge at the end of the hearing commented that at 5 years old, the mother should have guided and encouraged her daughter and gone as far as insisting that contact went ahead and should not have influenced the daughter to cut one or more of the few (initial) contact sessions short.
At the end of a three day hearing, the Judge found that the father had not been at fault at all during the 5 years of legal proceedings and said that his conduct had been ‘unblemished’. The Judge said that his evidence was consistent and clear. The allegations raised by the mother were all rejected by the Judge and the Judge concluded that the father had not subjected the mother or the child to any sort of domestic violence. She said that the father’s ‘sadness is beyond words’ and his daughter has ‘lost years of time with her father’. The mother on the other hand was seriously criticised by the Judge who said that ‘her position as so entrenched with her own perception of how she is the victim she cannot see the long-term potential harm to her daughter who holds a perception of a demon father in her mind’. The Judge said that the emotional damage done to this little girl was ‘immeasurable’ and this was ‘due to the mother’s unprecedented and wholly unreasonable resistance to the father’s desire to have contact’ with his daughter. ‘The mother has put her own ruthless motives of control and dislike of the father, before her daughter’s welfare’.
In this case there had been a number of hearings before various different judges and a number of professionals were involved in the case including a cafcass officer, a psychologist as well as solicitors and barristers. After a number of reports and hearings, and resistance by the mother, the matter was listed for its first substantive hearing, as referred to above which resulted in an order for direct contact being made. My client was delighted and hopes that the child can one day see that he is not a demon but a very loving and devoted father and wants nothing more than some regular contact with his daughter.
It cannot be emphasised enough that if parties are not being truthful, then it is more than likely that this will become clear when parties are cross-examined in the witness box at court. When giving evidence, the Judge will assess you in various ways, such as assessing your body language in court and considering how defensive or evasive you are when answering questions as well as the consistency of your evidence. You must be completely honest with the court when giving evidence and you must be completely honest with your solicitor when giving instructions. Do remember that it is a criminal offence to lie or mislead the court during proceedings.
This is not only true in proceedings involving children but also those involving financial matters. Recently, the Telegraph reported on the ruling of Judge Sir Paul Coleridge who said that ‘with the availability of legal advice becoming scarcer and parties often having to litigate without proper legal advice, it is more than ever important that financial details are presented to the other side and the court in a simple, clear, concise and above all, accurate way’. The parties in this reported case had come to an agreement about the distribution of the matrimonial assets when their marriage ended. It had been agreed that the husband would pay the wife a lump sum of £1.8 million in full and final settlement of all claims. The wife did not have the benefit of legal advice at the time and did not wish to pursue legal advice as she just wanted to reach a quick settlement and to move on with her life. However, the husband had failed to inform her of all his investments at the time and also failed to tell her about the large turnover that some of those investments were generating. After the agreement had been reached between the parties, the wife discovered documents which led her to believe that her husband may not have been entirely truthful when disclosing his financial affairs to her at the time that they reached agreement and she was right. It transpired that the husband had been hiding shares worth £740,000 in one company which were generating a £50 million turnover. There was a further £800,000 investment that the husband had failed to disclose to his wife at the time the agreement had been reached. When the matter was heard by the court, Judge Sir Colleridge ordered that the settlement of £1.8 million should be disregarded. It clear that the husband may well have to pay a lot more to his wife than the £1.8 million he had agreed to pay her.
In another recent case, which has been reported to have been the biggest divorce pay-out, dishonesty and bad conduct was involved once again. The husband in this case had not been honest with the court and his wife about his financial dealings. Not only was he not honest but his conduct during the proceedings was also bad. He had apparently pursued a series of satellite litigation in both the UK and in Russia, as well as failing to comply with court orders and had generally been obstructive. The Judge commented that this only served to increase the parties’ costs and anxiety for the wife. As a result, the court drew adverse inferences against the husband. By contrast, the wife was praised for her ‘calm, balanced and convincing evidence’. At the end of the final hearing, it was ordered that the wife was entitled to approximately half of the identified assets of the parties, equating to about £54 million. It was a long marriage and all the wealth had been accumulated during the marriage, therefore the final judgement was not a surprise. However, throughout the proceedings, the husband made it as difficult as possible to identify all the assets he owned and made it difficult to quantify the assets in the ‘matrimonial pot’. The conduct of the parties is always important in such proceedings and the impression that you give to the court of yourself will influence the Judge when making decisions and orders. Present yourself and the information you have been asked to serve well and as accurately as possible. If there is a legitimate reason why documents or information is not available then be upfront and inform the court and the other parties in the case, as soon as practicable.
If you need legal assistance or advice with any matrimonial related matters then contact our Family Law Team.
Satvinder Sokhal, Solicitor
DDI – 020 8280 2710