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A Cautionary Tale About Divorce Financial Advice From Friends

View profile for John Boon
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The tabloids have been reporting on a cautionary tale about divorce finances - the temptation to hide assets and the danger of relying on advice from the wrong places.

Meet Mrs Byrne

Mrs Byrne was thinking about divorcing her husband. The problem was, it is reported, that she had recently inherited £1m from her parents and she was worried what would happen to that in the divorce.

Meet Mr Howie, referred to in the press as her ‘friendly’ builder.

Mr Howie gave some 'friendly’ advice to Mrs Byrne regarding her pending divorce and what she should do to protect herself. He is reported as having been divorced twice. It is feasible, therefore, that his advice came across to Mrs Byrne as being plausible.

As a result of the advice, Mrs Byrne gave Mr Howie £600,000 to 'look after' on the basis that she could ask for it back after the divorce was completed.

Mrs Byrne then decided that she did not want to divorce her husband after all. She asked for her money back from the friendly builder but he refused to return it. He alleged that the money was, in fact, an investment made by Mrs Byrne in his business.

This story demonstrates the perils of depending on advice from friends and acquaintances.

Such advice often comes across as plausible, sensible and compelling. The problem is that it is often given from the subjective perspective of an individual. They may have their own biases or self-interests in mind, and their advice can be coloured accordingly.

The advice is unlikely to have taken into account the full range of legal and strategic considerations that expert family law guidance provides. It could be wrong or incomplete, resulting in the risk of costly consequences if it were followed.

In this particular case, the court ordered that the builder must repay the money. That is not the end of the matter, though, as the builder says he is now in Japan and unwell. Poor Mrs Byrne will still face an ongoing and expensive struggle to enforce the court order.

It is worth noting that even if the divorce had gone ahead, the attempt to protect this money would not have been successful. Resolving divorce financial claims follows a pattern of disclosure, negotiation and then settlement.

The disclosure part of that process is more than a simple assertion about what money you have or do not have. It includes a period of asking probing questions of each other. Those questions would almost certainly have enquired about inheritances from parents, given the circumstances of this case.

If Mrs Byrne continued to assert that she had not received an inheritance, then she might have been guilty of misleading the court with very serious consequences indeed.

What does this mean for you and your family?

If you are thinking about or going through divorce then you need to take careful, independent and expert family law advice. Every case will be decided depending on its own circumstances. The reported case and process set out above is a helpful guideline and your solicitor will be able to advise you on how it applies to your own situation.