Take a well-known chef and restaurateur, one divorce and a hearty measure of acrimony and the result is a recipe for trouble. Divorce proceedings can, at the best of times, be incredibly stressful for all concerned, but even more so where there are allegations that one party has been less than frank in revealing their financial circumstances to the other. So discovered Mrs White and her former Michelin-starred chef husband, Marco Pierre White. Mrs White made allegations that are not uncommon in financial proceedings that her husband had threatened ‘she would not get a penny’ and he would ‘disappear’. Mrs White was so concerned about these allegations that she predictably took matters into her own hands and intercepted her husband’s mail to try and obtain evidence of his true financial position.
The parties were married in 2000 after seven years’ cohabitation. They had three children together and separated in 2007. Divorce proceedings followed and Mrs White began to intercept his mail, some of which was, in fact, personal correspondence from a child of a previous marriage. Marco Pierre alleges that his wife was encouraged to intercept his post by her legal advisers, an allegation denied by both Mrs White and her legal representatives. Marco Pierre is now seeking a landmark ruling to enable him to pursue damages against the solicitor for encouraging Mrs White to intercept post and then holding onto these papers once they had come into their possession.
This begs the question of what you can do if you believe your spouse has not provided the information that he or she is legally obliged to under their duty to the Court. The answer was initially provided in the 1992 case of Hildebrand and, simply put, is to copy what is freely available and lying around the house, but it is here that the line must be drawn. Do not hold onto original documentation. Do not hack into a computer or remove a laptop to try and justify the present financial information. If you do, you may be able to use the information as was seen in the 2009 multi-million pound case of Imerman/Tchenguiz if the information was imperative to the case, but you are likely to be facing a hefty costs order against you and/or an order for significant damages for interference in personal documents. Mrs Tchenguiz was ordered to pay costs of £1,000,000!
So Mrs White and her solicitors will have to wait until later this year to see whether they will be penalised in damages but it sounds a clear warning to all concerned – ‘helping yourself’ should be reserved for the buffet unless you are prepared to pay for the substantial bill!
Carmelita Ardren is a partner and head of Raworths’ family law unit, to contact Carmelita telephone 01423 566666 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.