Family law specialist Ruth Hawkins on why honesty is the best policy

THERE has been another example reported in the past week about the dangers of not being honest within the family courts.

It underlines the fact that the whole basis of our family law, is one of honesty and that agreements or orders made when it later becomes apparent that a party has withheld information, can be set aside or varied.

A woman who discovered that her civil partner, who died in 2013, appeared to have hidden business assets worth millions of pounds during the dissolution of their relationship, hopes to ask the Court of Appeal to set aside the original ‘unfair’ settlement.

Helen Roocroft, from Bolton, had been in an 18-year relationship with her partner, Carol Ann Ainscow, when the two separated in 2009.

Ms Ainscow, whose property company transformed flats, bars and restaurants on Canal Street in Manchester, died aged 55 from a brain tumour.

During the earlier proceedings, Ms Ainscow submitted documents to court suggesting her wealth had been reduced significantly following the recession and property crash.

This led Ms Roocroft, who was unable to claim legal aid and represented herself during parts of the proceedings, to accept a settlement of £162,000 in 2010.

After Ms Ainscow’s death in 2013, Ms Roocroft discovered information which led her to believe that her former civil partner had not been truthful about the full extent of her assets and income in the disclosure she made to the courts during their dissolution proceedings.

She instructed family lawyers to seek to overturn the original agreement made with Ms Ainscow so that a new agreement could be negotiated with the estate.

The court concluded that her application had no merit and dismissed her claim at a hearing in June 2014, judgment being handed down on July 11, 2014.

Ms Roocroft secured permission to appeal that decision. It was agreed that the appeal would be heard after the cases of Sharland and Gohil in October 2015 and Vince v Wyatt in March 2015.

This is the latest in a long line of cases involving allegations of what the court refers to as ‘material non-disclosure’.

In the Sharland and Gohill cases, the wives were successful in asking the Supreme Court to set aside their divorce settlements on the basis that the husbands were dishonest and deliberately misled them and the courts when they agreed their original divorce settlements.

As Ms Ainscow died without leaving a will, her estate passed to her elderly mother.

The case is before the Court of Appeal at the moment, and a decision is awaited soon.

Whatever the outcome, it reinforces the importance of being open when negotiating or litigating a family matter, and also reinforces the importance of having a valid will.