What happens if my spouse has been siphoning off money?

A financial settlement on divorce will obviously usually involve the division between the parties of what assets exist at the time of the divorce.

But what if one of the parties believes that, during the marriage, the other party was siphoning off assets, with the result that the assets are significantly less than they would otherwise have been?

That was what the husband alleged in a recent case in the Central Family Court.

The case concerned a couple who were married in 1994 and separated in 2018. The wife is 49 and is a property consultant. The husband is 59 and is a builder.

A significant feature of the case was that the husband is, or has been until quite recently, functionally illiterate. For the majority of his adult life, therefore, he has had to rely on others to support him with many aspects of day to day life which most people take for granted. It was not disputed that for the duration of the parties’ cohabiting relationship it was the wife who undertook that role.

Divorce proceedings were issued in 2019 and the wife applied for a financial remedy order.

The husband claimed that throughout the relationship the wife was leading what he describes as a “double life”. He believed that she conceived a plan to defraud him and ultimately to leave him, having enriched herself at his expense. He said that throughout the marriage the wife was siphoning off joint funds, and using them to accrue assets that he knew nothing about.

The husband maintained that his illiteracy permitted the wife to act in this way, and that she exploited his vulnerability in this regard.

In order to determine the husband’s claims the judge had to examine the allegations of financial misconduct made by the husband against the wife.

In doing so she made a number of findings against the wife, which she said demonstrated a pattern of behaviour on the wife’s part. She said that on repeated occasions, and over a period of several years, the wife sought to remove assets from the family “pot”, and to place them where the husband would not be able to access them.

In short, the sum of the parties’ assets was less than it would have been if the wife had not acted in the way she did.

So what was to be done?

To ‘compensate’ the husband the judge did two things:

Firstly, having found that the wife had siphoned off some of £160,000 from the assets, she included that sum as part of the wife’s assets.

Secondly, to ‘penalise’ the wife for her conduct, the assets were divided as to 53%:47% in the husband’s favour.

The result of this was that the wife received 47% of the assets, which included the £160,000, some of which was no longer available.

And that was not the end of it. The judge also ordered the wife to make a substantial contribution towards the husband’s legal costs, which could amount to as much as £40,000.

You can read the full report of the judgment here.

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