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Non disclosure of assets: Civil partnership divorce case labelled “unique”

Non disclosure of assets: Civil partnership divorce case labelled “unique”

Lady Justice Black has granted permission for a case brought by a former civil partner against her late ex-partner’s estate to be heard in the Court of Appeal. Helen Roocroft, the former civil partner of property developer Carol Ann Ainscow, who died of a brain tumour in 2013, is seeking a bigger portion of a multi-million-pound fortune in a unique case.

The couple had been together for 19 years, entering into a civil partnership in 2008 before splitting in 2009; their legal partnership was dissolved in 2010. Following the break-up, Ms Roocroft applied for financial maintenance; however, she was told that, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Ms Ainscow’s businesses had just £750,000 in assets. Instead of pursuing the claim in court, she accepted a “modest” settlement of £162,000 to be paid in instalments.

Ms Roocroft claims she was misled over the size of Ms Ainscow’s fortune and is seeking a larger settlement from her estate. She died without leaving a will, and so the state is controlled by Ms Ainscow’s elderly mother. Lady Justice Black said Ms Roocroft’s case was unique, and has a high chance of succeeding.

Failure to disclose full extent of assets

During the 1990s, Ms Ainscow was instrumental in developing property in London’s Soho district, where she owned the bar Manto, and also in Manchester, where her work helped to establish what is now known as the gay village based around Canal Street.

Despite claims to the contrary at the time of the split, business accounts for the year ending 2010 showed that Artisan Holdings, the property company of which Ms Ainscow was sole shareholder, had funds of £5.5m. The Court of Appeal heard Ms Roocroft’s barrister comment that, had this been disclosed at the time the partnership was ended, “it is inconceivable that the court would have approved an award in such modest terms to a wife in such modest circumstances”.

“A real prospect of success”

Lady Justice Black agreed, allowing the appeal to be heard by three senior judges in court later this year. She said “There was material to support the case that there was non-disclosure of potential significance to an ancillary relief claim”, and that Judge Kevin Barnett’s dismissal of the case at Chester County Court last year was, in her view, wrong.

Pointing to the unique nature of the case, she commented “The complication of the death of Ms Ainscow is significant. I’m not aware of any similar case where the non-disclosure has been acted upon following death of the other party”, before going on to state “It is surely arguable that there is a public interest in not supporting those who mislead others, in particular the court. I am persuaded that the grounds of appeal, as drafted, have a real prospect of success”.

With the potential to reduce the costs and difficulties of separation and enable a fair distribution of assets, pre-nups can give couples the power to plan for the future on their own terms. And although not the most romantic of topics before the big day, it is important to obtain independent legal advice and consider what the agreement should contain and how best to implement financial arrangements to ensure fairness between the couple.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of family law, are considering divorce proceedings or a trial separation, or want to draw up a pre or post-nuptial agreement, call our mediation, divorce and family dispute resolution solicitors in absolute confidence on 01494 790058 or 01494 790047. Alternatively, email us at familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk.

We can provide initial short family law consultations at a reduced fixed fee, where our expert advisors will be able to give you initial guidance on ways to resolve family disputes, either through mediation or individual representation. We will always provide you with cost estimates at the start and throughout your case.