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Divorcing couples are increasingly likely to conceal assets, says survey of matrimonial lawyers

Grant Thornton publishes 8th annual matrimonial survey

48% of family lawyers believe that individuals are likely to conceal assets during divorce proceedings following the 2010 Imerman ruling, whilst a further 35% consider it a possibility, according to Grant Thornton's eighth annual matrimonial survey

The survey canvassed the opinions of 101 of what are termed 'the UK's leading family lawyers' based on their client work in 2010.

Concealment of assets
The Court of Appeal judgment in Tchenguiz v Imerman; Imerman v Imerman [2010] EWCA Civ 908 upheld the initial ruling that the information Lisa Tchenguiz and her brothers had downloaded from her husband's computer, without his knowledge, could not be used during divorce proceedings.

Almost a third of respondents (30%) expressed concern that as a result, clients would no longer be able to obtain fair settlements due to undisclosed assets, with well over half (61%) believing the ruling will lead to more assets remaining undisclosed, affecting the accuracy of Forms E.

Reasons for divorce
Extra-marital affairs are no longer the most common reason for divorce proceedings. It has now been replaced by parties who say that they have grown apart or fallen out of love.

Divorce in a failing economy
82% of respondents thought that people had delayed divorce proceedings due to the recession, with a majority of respondents (54%) stating that the lack of value and/or liquidity of personal assets was the greatest contributor to this delay. 

However, some respondents did state that their clients had taken advantage of the economy and divorced during the recession in order to benefit from lower income and asset values leading to a lower settlement.

Mediation 
Following the implementation of the Family Procedure Rules in April 2010, 38% of solicitors surveyed were concerned that the requirement for couples to attend a compulsory mediation assessment meeting would place undue pressure on the weaker party to mediate.

Two thirds of solicitors (67%) also expressed concern that some parties could take advantage of the potential delays arising from the requirement for mediation assessment meetings by moving or concealing assets.

Pre-nuptial work still rising
The year on year rise in pre-nuptial work continued with 58% of respondents saying that they had seen an increase in volume. Following the Supreme Court's decision in Radmacher v Granatino [2010] UKSC 42, 59% of those surveyed said that they expected further increases in volume over the coming year.

Need for legislation
Making pre and post nuptial agreements legally binding has dropped from the number one area of legislation where family solicitors wanted to see change in the 2010 report, to the number four concern. Protection for cohabiting couples (27%), the introduction of the no fault divorce (24%) and clearer guidance on self-help following the Imerman ruling (23%) have been the top three concerns cited respectively.