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Divorce law blog

Divorce and disclosure – what can and can’t you help yourself to?

19/12/2012   By: Rose-Marie Drury

Oscar Wilde said “I can resist everything except temptation”. And this week bank employee Lara Davies might have reflected on that when she was fined £500 for using her employer’s systems to get hold of her partner’s ex-wife’s bank statements. But while everyone will recognise that this was an obvious abuse of her position, what might be less obvious is that accessing confidential information in other ways to help you with your divorce proceedings can also leave you in hot water. So what can you do if you think that you’re not getting the full picture?

When you’re sorting out finances in a divorce it’s essential that both you and your ex tell each other honestly what income, assets and debts you have. Unless you know what there is you can’t work out a fair split. However, it’s important to resist the temptation to help yourself to your ex’s personal paperwork until you’ve got expert advice so that you don’t fall foul of the law. If you find documents lying around the house or know your ex keeps papers in a filing cabinet in his office at home, can you take a look or copy them? The rules are unfortunately far from clear, but basically it’s about confidentiality and privacy. 

Whether a document is confidential can depend on the circumstances. If your marriage has broken down then it’s more likely your spouse would consider a document private even if it might not have been before you split up. If you try to make use of a confidential document then your solicitor may not be able to continue acting for you. You may also be in trouble under criminal law or find yourself being sued and unable to use the information in the divorce proceedings.

There are various steps you can take if you doubt your partner’s honesty. You might be able to get a court order to stop money being moved around – or even to get it back if that’s already happened. If you find information that suggests your ex is hiding assets then you will probably be able to use it, but any communications between your ex and his legal advisers are a complete no go area, as is private correspondence that has nothing to do with the case between you.

You might be tempted to instruct a private investigator to see what your spouse is up to. However, the results can be mixed. The private investigator might not find what you want, the evidence may be upsetting and the court may not let you use it anyway.

The bottom line is that’s is essential to get legal advice as soon as possible to check what you can and can’t do. Getting it wrong can have serious consequences.

If you think your ex has been hiding assets, read more about how you can get help to uncover them in our hidden assets section.

Rose-Marie Drury
Family Law Solicitor

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