Judge orders father to be excluded from financial case while his daughter gives evidence

HouseA High Court judge has ordered the father of a divorcee to be excluded from court while his daughter is cross-examined on the nature of a financial agreement.

In Luckwell v Limata, the wife had applied for financial relief (maintenance) following her divorce. Her parents had attended the entirety of the hearing up to the point at which the wife was to give evidence on the agreement.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Holman noted that “ it is crystal clear that the entirety of the assets under discussion in this case have derived originally and ultimately from one or other or both of the wife’s parents”.

The wife’s parents were currently providing more than £100,000 a year in financial support to their daughter and her children, including the payment of school fees.

In addition, some years previously, the father had given her a very valuable house in Connaught Square, central London, thought to be worth £6.7 million. At the time she had agreed with her father that “that she would never sell it, charge it or raise money upon it, at any rate without his consent.”

The judge said:

“…the husband signed a prenuptial agreement and, later, two supplementary agreements, in all of which he agreed, in effect, that in the event of separation and divorce he would make no claim at all against the assets of the wife. The governing prenuptial agreement clearly recites that each of the husband and wife “specifically acknowledges and agrees that the marriage would not be taking place without this agreement having been negotiated and signed by each of them”. Further, it is the case of the wife that there would have been no question of her father giving Connaught Square to her, or indeed money with which to buy earlier properties, unless the husband had first signed not only that prenuptial agreement but also each of the supplemental agreements. That is clearly a very significant feature of this case.”

Mr Justice Holman explained: “It is at the moment stated by the father in a written statement that, in the event that the wife is now effectively forced to sell or even raise money secured upon that property, he will completely terminate all the payments that he currently makes for the support of his daughter and grandchildren and for their school fees.”

Therefore, if the house was sold or mortgaged, the wife’s financial support would be significantly reduced.

However, said the judge, “areas where the evidence at the moment is potentially in conflict or, at any rate, less clear as to what discussions may have taken place”.

Therefore, “it is plain that in this very anxious situation there is a need to have some exploration as to the true intentions of the father… which, in turn, may involve consideration of his motivation when he extracted whatever promises he did extract.”

The husband’s counsel argued that the husband should be excluded from the courtroom while the wife gave evidence. The father’s counsel opposed this, saying: “it is of importance to the appearance of justice to his client that her father should not be excluded from any part of the hearing.”

Mr Justice Holman was forthright.

“I, for my part, am less focused for the purposes of this particular ruling on the appearance of justice to either of these parties than on the quality, purity and reliability of the evidence which I have still to hear. There are potentially issues of fact here upon which the evidence is, to my mind, still obscure. To my mind, the evidence of each of the wife and, more particularly, her father will have greater value as evidence if the father is not present while she gives the relevant part of her evidence and is not able to hear at the time what she has said before giving his own evidence.”

He added:

“…one of the realities of this case is that decisions voluntarily made by [the father] could make it more or less easy for his daughter, the wife, to find a way through to settlement. So there is no doubt that he is somebody who is, to put it colloquially, “centre stage”. But it does seem to me, on balance, that the evidence of each of the wife and, later, of [the father] is likely to be of greater value as evidence and to carry greater weight if he is not present while she gives her evidence on the topics that I have outlined.”

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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5 comments

Luke - March 1, 2014 at 1:03pm

It’s a very weird situation, clearly the husband signed up to the prenup, why doesn’t the Judge just enforce the prenup and have done with it ?

Andrew - March 1, 2014 at 7:37pm

Why?

He wouldn’t against a wife.

Sauce for the goose, and until prenups are made enforceable, the husband should get his fair share – which according to today’s Times is $1.2m, abut a third of what her family choose to regard as hers. Nice work if you can get it.

Andrew - March 2, 2014 at 12:17am

£1.2m , of course.

Gentlergiant - March 3, 2014 at 9:41am

I don’t think this is as bad as it seems, and that the Judge has moved in the right direction. Of the £1.2m, £226,000 is legal fees (which Limata should be paying himself), and importantly, 45% of the £800,000 earmarked for housing has to be returned when the youngest child is 22. That will leave him with about 10% of her share of the ‘family’ assets as a reward for marrying well. If the same percentages were applied to other similar cases, family law would not need the overhaul it so desperately does. As long as family law isn’t blatantly sexist. Which it isn’t, is it?

Luke - March 5, 2014 at 11:24am

Gentlergiant , I take your point that:

“I don’t think this is as bad as it seems”

but I still think the prenup should be enforced, there may need to be the requirement to allocate him assets temporarily (i.e. a house) so that he can have parental contact – but that’s what it should be – temporary.

I understand that the wife would probably have got much more Andrew if the positions were reversed – but I want the system to become fairer – not for the current nonsense of disproportionate ‘needs’ to be continued and consolidated.

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