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Husband misled wife about value of assets: Permission to appeal divorce settlement could set precedent

Husband misled wife about value of assets: Permission to appeal divorce settlement could set precedent

A woman has been given permission to appeal her 2012 divorce settlement in the Supreme Court, after claiming she was misled as to the extent of her former husband’s business interests. If she is successful, it is thought that the case will set a precedent for couples to return to court for a failure to disclose all relevant business information.

Divorce settlement of £10.3m in cash and property

Alison Sharland, 47, has been awarded permission to appeal a divorce settlement of £10.35 million with her estranged husband Charles Shardland, after claiming she was deliberately misled about his business interests. Mrs Sharland is arguing that her husband “cheated her into an agreement”.

Mr Sharland, 54, known as Charlie, is an entrepreneur from Cheshire who founded AppSense in 1999, a platform that allows employees to seamlessly work across multiple mobile devices. The couple married in 1993 and lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with their three children. Mr Sharland ran his company from a business park in Daresbury, while his former wife ran an autism charity. Mr Sharland grew his company to become one of the biggest firms of its kind in the world, with AppSense opening offices in Silicon Valley and New York, as well as across Europe and in Australia.

The couple separated in 2010 and in the original five-day High Court hearing in July 2012, the couple disagreed over the divorce settlement. Mrs Sharland eventually agreed to accept the settlement of £10.35m in cash and property, with a 30% share of the proceeds of her husband’s shares in AppSense when they were put on the market. The 30% share saw Mrs Sharland agreeing to take more liquid assets, but giving up an equal proportion of the company’s value.

However, within a few days of reaching an agreement, Mrs Sharland urged the court not to approve the settlement.

Deliberately misleading information given about the value of the business

After signing the agreement, Mrs Sharland discovered that her husband has misled her as to his business intentions and the true value of AppSense. The 30% share she had agreed in relation to the business was based on a valuation that her husband’s shares were worth no more than £32 million. However, it transpired that, despite giving evidence that a float of the company would not take place for over five years, Mr Sharland had been in discussions for an initial public offering that saw his shares valued at £132 million.

Mr Sharland did not dispute that he had deliberately misled his wife. His behaviour was criticised by Sir Hugh Bennett, the High Court judge hearing the case, who said he had “laid a false trail”, by giving “dishonest evidence”. The Court maintained, however, that the settlement should stand, with Mrs Sharland bound by the agreement she had signed. Sir Hugh held that the non-disclosure about a possible floatation of AppSense did not alter her award.

After losing an appeal of the High Court decision, Mrs Sharland has now received permission to take her case to the Supreme Court. If she is successful, she could win a greater share of Mr Sharland’s fortune.

The case raises interesting issues surrounding the disclosure of evidence in divorce cases. If Mrs Sharland is successful, more couples could seek to bring their cases back to court if new information about their former spouse’s business interests comes to light. If she is not successful, there are concerns that Mr Sharland’s behaviour will be viewed as acceptable, encouraging others in disputes to hold back business information when negotiating in divorce proceedings.

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