The Supreme Court is set to hear a landmark divorce case concerning on assets held by spouses companies after a Court of Appeal (CoA) ruling last month.
The case of the Prest’s revolves around the question of whether companies belonging to spouses can be ordered to pay assets in a divorce settlement.
Family lawyers for Yasmin Prest, the ex wife of oil tycoon Michael Prest are contesting the decision given by the CoA on the 26 October, which ruled that companies owned by Mr Prest would not be made to hand over assets totaling £17.5m to his ex-wife, in a judgment which was criticised by critics saying that it would enable wealthy spouses to protect their assets in divorce proceedings.
The ruling by CoA came after justice Moylan ordered Mr Prest to hand over the £17.5 sum last year. And suspecting that Mr Prest would not comply with the orders as he had not provided a frank and full disclosure, justice Moylan had ordered 14 of the businessman’s properties in theUKand abroad to transfer assets to Mrs Prest as part payment of the award.
But that ruling was overturned last month when the companies won an appeal against Moylan’s ruling, on the basis that the assets belonged to the companies, which were separate legal entities to Mr Prest.
The October ruling divided the CoA bench two to one, with commercial judges Justice Patten and Justice Rimer finding in favour of the companies against Justice Thorpe, who in his dissenting judgment said that if the law permitted Mr Prest to retain assets in this way it defeats the Family Division judge’s overriding duty to achieve a fair result.
In his ruling, Rimer argued against Thorpe, and said that primarily their were no findings which could justify the finality except that the properties were part of the assets of, and belonged beneficially to, the companies that respectively controlled them.
Commenting on the October decision, family law lawyer for Mrs Prest said that it was a great pity that years of case law and practice which had enabled family law judges to do justice between divorcing couples have been overturned by a non-unanimous decision of the CoA. Devious men who want to avoid making fair provision for their wives would rejoice at this decision.
Another family law barrister added the decision was a disappointing one for many wives who confront on divorce a tangled web of companies used to shelter their husbands’ wealth.
He added that the ruling had put the genie back in the bottle. The Court has effectively sanctioned for other cases the use of what could be perceived by the general public to be a cheat’s charter.