Court Rules On Hidden Millions In Ancillary Relief Case

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Ancillary relief and divorce lawyers are saying farewell to the ‘Hildebrand’ rules following a Court decision earlier this year ruling that a millionaire husband should be allowed to hide his fortune.

On the 29th July 2010 the Court of Appeal dismissed the longstanding practice following on from Hildebrand v Hildebrand [1992] 1 FLR 244 that it was fair game to take copies of any documents found by a party during divorce proceedings that provided evidence that the other party had undisclosed assets such as bank accounts or property on the basis that the ­originals were then promptly returned to the other party or their solicitors. Finding in favour of Mr Imerman, the Court concluded that the so-called Hildebrand rules’ were not authority for such established practice. The Judge’s concluded that Hildebrand is only authority ‘as to the time when copies obtained unlawfully or clandestinely should be disclosed to a spouse’. It is only on that narrow point that the rule in Hildebrand was and remains good law. The Court ordered that the wife in this case, Lisa Tchenguiz, could not use the many documents she had managed to obtain from her husbands private files and must instead deliver the obtained files to Mr Imerman’s solicitors (and retain no copies) and that she and her solicitors be restrained from using any information they might have gained from reading the files.

TCHENGUIZ V IMERMAN AND IMPROPERLY OBTAINED EVIDENCE IN DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS

Mr Imerman and Ms Tchenguiz married in 2001, and signed a pre- nuptial agreement at the alleged insistence of Ms Tchenguiz. Mr Imerman, dubbed ‘the man from Del Monte’ owned a large stake in Del Monte foods Ltd, which he sold for 380 million in 1999, 2 years prior to his marriage to Ms Tchenguiz.

The wife filed for divorce in 2008. By this time the husband’s wealth had increased further and the wife claimed that she could no longer be expected to settle for the agreed amount from the earlier pre-nuptial agreement. She therefore issued her claim for ancillary relief. As proceedings continued Ms Tchenguiz claimed that her husband had told her she would “never be able to find my money” and that his fortune was “well hidden”. She claimed that the disclosures that he made on his form E were not correct and that she could prove that he had considerable undisclosed assets.

It just so happened that Ms Tchenguiz’s brother shared a work and office computer system with Mr Imerman. It was suggested that he, along with other members of the wife’s family, accessed Mr Imerman’s full computer files and downloaded between 250,000 and 1.5million pages of documents that they then handed over to Ms Tchenguiz’s divorce lawyers. Mr Imerman launched an immediate application to the Court to have the documents retrieved; claiming that they were confidential documents, and were improperly obtained by the wife and her legal team.

In the Queen’s Bench Division, Eady J gave summary judgment in the husbands favour and granted him an injunction against the brothers and their solicitor (a) requiring them to return all copies of the documents to H and (b) against disclosing anything obtained from the server to any third party, including Wife and her solicitors. In the Family Division, Moylan J ordered that W’s matrimonial solicitors return the files to H to enable him to check them for privileged material but no more. After that check, they were to be returned to Wife’s solicitors. There were conjoined cross appeals.

In the Court of appeal Ms Tchenguiz sought to rely on the “Hildebrand rules”, dating to 1992, under which both parties are allowed to obtain copies of confidential information from their spouse, as long as they do not use force.

However, The Court of Appeal dismissed her application and rejected use of ‘Hildebrand’ stating that it had no legal basis in this case. It was ordered that the wife was to deliver the files to the Husbands solicitors and retain no copies, so that they may then properly advise him as to his disclosure obligations.

How can Hanne & Co help you?

Hanne & Co are one of London’s leading family law firms. Our specialist family law department possesses decades of experience in complex ancillary relief proceedings. Following the Court of Appeal ruling in Imerman, it is likely that parties will have to seek expert advice in respect of ­improperly obtained documents whilst ensuring that their best interests are protected and pursuing their entitlement to full and frank disclosure during ancillary relief proceedings.

Our invaluable experience in ancillary relief proceedings can assist anyone seeking advice on ancillary relief settlements where they suspect non-disclosure of assets has occurred, or where they are seeking to defend themselves against use of confidential or private information. We possess decades of invaluable experience in all areas of ancillary relief proceedings as well as other areas of Family Law such as Cohabitation, Children, Adoption and Public Law. We are in a position to advise you accordingly.

Please feel free to enquire with one of our family law team on +44 (020) 7228 0017, alternatively you can contact us through info@hanne.co.uk or via our website http://www.hanne.co.uk, and one of our experienced family lawyers will be in touch.

About the firm

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