This week, the U.K. Supreme Court is reviewing the cases of Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil to determine whether a spouse can reopen a divorce case in instances of fraud or misrepresentation after the parties have reached a settlement agreement.
Sharland contends that her husband misled her into believing that his software company was worth a fraction of its actual value. Gohil accepted a modest settlement from her husband in 2004, only to find out years later that her husband had been hiding tens of millions of dollars from her. This all came to light as part of a criminal trial against Gohil’s ex-husband in which he was convicted of fraud and money laundering to the tune of £37 million.
Here in the U.S., it can be extremely difficult to reopen a divorce action once the parties have reached a settlement agreement. The degree of difficulty varies from state to state, but in general, most state courts will only set aside a divorce settlement in a few limited circumstances. Some states will allow a party a second bite at the apple if he or she can show deceit or fraud by their spouse, as in Sharland and Gohil’s cases.
This is where we come in. Our clients or their lawyers hire us to help find assets that their spouses either under-valued or omitted from their statement of net worth altogether. For example, a client might accidentally receive a bank statement for an account with her ex-husband’s name on it that he did not disclose during their divorce. If he hid that account from her, what else did he keep secret? We have found millions of dollars’ worth of undisclosed assets in divorce cases, assets like real estate, stock options, and ownership interests in companies or partnerships. This information may help form the basis of an argument to reopen a divorce case on the grounds of fraud.
While it is certainly best to start looking for assets while a divorce is ongoing, all is not necessarily lost if you have already signed a settlement agreement when you find out about hidden assets. Your lawyer can advise you on your chances of success, and can help you decide when the right time might be to stop relying on that net worth statement and start digging for what he didn’t tell you.