It is a common scenario in ancillary relief (financial/property claims on divorce) applications that one party alleges that the other has failed to properly disclose their assets. How does the court deal with this? Well, not as it did in the case of Zeiderman v Zeiderman, which Lord Justice Wall said "does not show the family justice system in a particularly good light".
On the 7th June 2006 District Judge Segal, sitting in the Principal Registry, ordered that Mr Zeiderman transfer the former matrimonial home to Mrs Zeiderman and that he pay her maintenance at the rate of £20,000 a year. According to Mr Zeiderman, the former matrimonial home was the only substantial capital asset of the parties, and £20,000 represented approximately 50% of his net income. The district judge made this order because he did not accept Mr Zeiderman's evidence, in particular that he was not to receive a half share of a property which had previously belonged to his parents and that he had not disclosed his true income, as Mrs Zeiderman alleged.
Mr Zeiderman appealed against the order, and his appeal initially went before Mrs Justice Black in the High Court. She dismissed the appeal and refused to allow Mr Zeiderman to adduce additional evidence. The matter then eventually went before the Court of Appeal, in June this year. There, Lord Justice Wall criticised the approach of District Judge Segal in accepting Mrs Zeiderman's position without a full investigation of the evidence. In the circumstances, he felt that the district judge had "made an inappropriate order in relation to both income and capital". He therefore set aside the district judge's order, and directed a re-hearing.
In his judgment, Lord Justice Wall made it quite clear at the outset that this case turned "exclusively on its highly unusual facts" and that it was "not a precedent for anything nor should it be treated by the profession as such". Nevertheless, it is, I would suggest, of interest not just as an example of things going wrong but also for stating clearly that judges, whilst being entitled to form a view as to the credibility of witnesses, should, where essential facts are in issue, make orders on the basis of evidence rather than "on the basis of an assumption and a belief".