Vindictive Spouses Racking Up Court Time with Bogus Claims
Unfounded claims by aggrieved divorcing couples are increasingly pushing up legal fees and dragging out court proceedings.
The issue has become especially prominent as the number of people representing themselves in court has gone up.
With January traditionally boasting the highest number of legal breakups, a lawyer has urged couples not to get inventive during divorce proceedings.
James Skinner, a family lawyer with Simpson Millar solicitors, says making spurious allegations rarely changes the outcome of a divorce. Nonetheless, warring spouses are becoming ever more creative and determined in their efforts to smear the other’s reputation."Clearly, emotions run high during a divorce and it isn’t uncommon for both parties to start throwing mud,"
says James. "But in recent years we have seen this phenomenon intensify and is now completely out of proportion. People think smearing the other person will help their case but it rarely does; it just drags out proceedings, racks up costs and leaves everyone with a bitter taste in the mouth."
In April 2013, divorcing couples became largely unable to claim legal aid which, in turn, has led to a rise in litigants in person: People who are not represented in court by a solicitor or barrister. "Few people fully understand how the court works; the duty of disclosure and proportionality on costs. They feel free to raise anything they want, however spurious and regardless of how it might affect costs for everyone involved. Of course, in some cases, we are dealing with good old fashioned vindictiveness."
James says misconceptions about what is fair in divorce cases have aggravated the problem. "There is now a widespread perception that justice means getting half of the marriage assets, and that evidence of poor behaviour somehow automatically means the other person gets even more. This simply isn’t the case; divorces can be complex with numerous considerations determining who gets what."
The most common allegations
James explains: "Currently, one of the biggest challenges are claims that one person is hiding money in secret bank accounts. Funds can be moved around at the click of a mouse so finding them can become like chasing smoke. Vast sums of money are wasted on accountants and computer consultants – often to no avail.
"A particularly complex claim I’m hearing more than ever, is that either the husband or the wife is temporarily transferring ownership of their business to someone else. Alternatively, the argument is that they are fraudulently running it into the ground for it to then suddenly rise, phoenix-like from the ashes, after the settlement. Investigating these scenarios involve the services of a forensic accountant which adds thousands to the cost of the divorce."
Allegations that the other half is spending a significant amount of money on a new lifestyle or partner is another favourite. "Unless the courts are presented with real wantonness on one party’s excessive spending habits, claims of an excessive new lifestyle are usually dismissed,"
Another recent favourite is evidence of seedy online activities – produced to try and drum up disgust from the court. "Unless we are dealing with illegal activities, this sort of smear campaign is usually viewed as an unattractive, irrelevant side-issue by the judge.
"I have seen people using private detectives and even putting trackers on their spouse’s car to try and prove they are having an affair. Sadly, this is a tactic which very often back-fires, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying it on"
James says some divorce claims
are so far-fetched, they shouldn’t be allowed. "Perhaps the most desperate claim I have heard recently was that one party was in line for a significant inheritance, and the other wanted some sort of future agreement that they would receive their share of it. Sadly, time and money continues to be wasted disproving ludicrous allegations which most lawyers would have advised their clients against ever making in the first place.
"Luckily, the courts are alive to the issue so divorcees beware; judges will make costs orders against the most egregious and persistent fantasists."