A woman who discovered that her civil partner, who died intestate in 2013, had hidden assets worth millions of pounds in business assets during the dissolution of their relationship has won a legal battle at the Court of Appeal as she seeks to set aside the original 'unfair' settlement.
Specialist family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth acting for the woman say the judgment confirms that same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual partners under family law and reiterates the message that dishonesty will not be tolerated by the courts.
The judgment in Roocroft v Ball
is handed down almost exactly a year after Irwin Mitchell was also successful in the Supreme Court when the law firm represented two wives - Varsha Gohil and Alison Sharland – who challenged their divorce settlements after their husbands were found to have misled them significantly regarding their wealth.
This latest landmark case is the first to consider the discovery of non-disclosure of assets after the death of one of the parties.
Helen Roocroft, from Bolton, was in an 18-year relationship with her wealthy property tycoon partner, Carol Ainscow, when the two separated in 2009.
Ms Ainscow, whose property company Artisan carried out developments across Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and London, died aged 55 after battling a brain tumour. She died intestate which means she did not make a will setting out her wishes for her estate.
After her death evidence was discovered that she may have misled the courts about her true wealth during the dissolution of their civil partnership saying she had lost millions during the property crash. This led to Ms Roocroft accepting a much lower settlement than she was entitled to given the circumstances of their relationship.
The 42-year-old Ms Roocroft instructed specialist family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to seek to overturn the original agreement made with Ms Ainscow so that a new agreement can be negotiated with the estate based on an honest assessment of their assets. Ms Roocroft attempted to settle out-of-court via Alternative Dispute Resulution but was stonewalled by the estate.
After legal battles in the lower family courts and High Court, the unusual case was heard in the Court of Appeal in July this year and all three Appeal Judges, Lord Justice Elias, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lady Justice King, have now agreed with Ms Roocroft that she has a right to argue for her settlement to be set aside.
The judgment handed down today (14 October 2016) said that Ms Roocroft had submitted evidence suggesting that 'the deceased’s income at the time of the consent order was three times that which she had stated in her Statement of Information'.
It also reiterated Baroness Hale’s confirmation that the observations made by her in the Supreme Court in the Sharland
cases apply equally to same sex partners in a civil partnership as to a husband and wife in divorce proceedings.
case will now be re-listed at the High Court for a directions hearing to determine the next steps in setting aside the original settlement which would enable Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Disputes team to negotiate a new one with the late Ms Ainscow’s estate.