Of the dead, nothing unless good
In 1433 during the height of the Italian Renaissance Ambrogio Traversari translated the Greek book, the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers into Latin and so the phrase “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum” or “Of the dead, nothing unless good” was born. The idea of not speaking ill of the dead was enshrined into social etiquette and immortalised for years to come.
In 1599 William Shakespeare had one of his protagonists proclaim that “the evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones” when speaking of Julius Caesar, this being the catalyst to the Roman’s in fact remembering only Caesar’s good deeds.
In 1915, Sigmund Freud challenged the idea stating that, “the consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living.”
Whatever our thoughts on the matter, however, it would appear that we as a society, especially in the UK, have a certain respect for the dead. But, does this respect go beyond the realms of social acceptance and into the court rooms?
The Relationship behind the Controversy
In 1991 Ms Helen Roocroft and Ms Carol Ainscow entered into their relationship, one can only guess with an air of optimism, and the two became civil partners in 2008. Over the years Ms Ainscow amassed a large fortune, approximately £30million in 2009, grown predominantly from her property developing. In 2010, Ms Roocroft and Ms Ainscow’s relationship broke down and their civil partnership was dissolved in August of that year. Following the dissolution, Ms Roocroft left the partnership with £162,000 under a ‘clean break’ deal. Ms Ainscow claimed that the recession that began in 2008 and was on-going at the time of the split had hit her business hard and her wealth had dramatically fallen to £750,000. And that was that until….
The Not So Clean Break
Ms Ainscow died at the age of 55 years, on the 19th September 2013, from a brain tumour and it was this that kick started the current case. According to Ms Roocroft’s barrister, Ms Hillas QC, it was only after her ex’s death that Ms Roocroft realised how much she had been worth. Business accounts for Artisan Holdings, Ms Ainscow’s property company (of which she was sole shareholder), for year ending 2010 showed funds of £5.5million. On this evidence Ms Roocroft claims that her ex hid assets and mislead the court as to the true nature of her wealth. Ms Hillas QC claims that should the court have known Ms Ainscow’s true wealth then it would never have awarded such a meek settlement.
Initially, Ms Roocroft’s application to re-open the case was dismissed by Judge Kevin Barnett at the Chester County Court; however Lady Justice Black permitted an appeal stating that she believed it was in the public interest to not support “those who mislead others, in particular the court.
Mr Todd QC for Ms Ainscow’s estate stressed that this “is a case of a wife who, having bargained for a clean break, wishes now to resile from that”. And whilst he believes that Ms Roocroft “has not put forward a single example of an asset or a valuation which was not disclosed or which was deliberately undervalued.” Lady Justice Black stated that “there was material to support the case that there was non-disclosure of potential significance” and that “it was Miss Ainscow’s duty to make full and fair disclosure, not only so Miss Roocroft could evaluate her claim and decide upon how to proceed with it, but also so the court could exercise its discretion.”
Due to the fact that Ms Ainscow died without making a Will her elderly mother is currently entitled to her full estate and so it is her estate against which Ms Roocroft now makes her claim.
Despite the social etiquette and Mr Todd QC’s accusation that Ms Roocroft is “speaking ill of the dead”, the case continues. It would appear that Sigmund Freud’s belief that consideration for the dead is more important to us than truth is not so true after all. This case is making history, not only as this the first lesbian “divorce” to reach the Court of Appeal, but also in the fact that it could set a new precedent, it being the first case in which a claim of non-disclosure has been brought after the other party’s death.
The outcome of this case, however, could well hinge upon the recent results in two other divorce disputes in which ex-wives Alison Sharland and Varsha Gohil were awarded the ability to go back to court to claim more of their ex-husband’s money despite the fact that they had arrived at financial settlements when their marriages broke down years ago.
It would appear that not making full and fair disclosure during your divorce or dissolution proceedings could quite easily come back to bite you both before and after your death. And on that note, full and fair disclosure appears to not be the only thing that could come back to bite you. Taking an advance on the writing of a Shakespearean book, to the tune of £500,000, could also land you having to fork out thousands… if you don’t believe us just ask our new Foreign Secretary Mr Boris Johnson.
About the Author: Zoe White – thanks very much to guest blogger Zoe, who wrote this post. We hope she will contribute many more interesting topics and insights into family law in the future.
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