Privacy and divorce

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It is easy to see why a couple might want to keep their divorce private and out of the Court. The reasons may be personal; for example, a couple might want to avoid having the ins-and-outs of their marriage and its breakdown being scrutinised by their spouse's legal team and potentially dissected by a Judge. They might alternatively be altogether more commercial, as parties with significant business interests might fear the adverse impacts of having to publicly disclose details of the value of such interests.

When financial matters are taken through the Court, each party is required to make full and frank disclosure of their finances. This means that such financial information (which may be commercially sensitive in nature) may end up being placed on the Court record, potentially adversely affecting these business interests. Furthermore, should the matter end up before a Judge at a Final Hearing, each spouse's barrister will have the opportunity to subject the other to rigorous cross-examination. This risks exposure of further details relating to the parties' financial positions and, in the process, more delicate surrounding details of the marriage.

Whilst it is unlikely that any divorcing couple would want their circumstances dealt with on the Court record, it is undeniable that these privacy concerns become paramount when the couple concerned are of considerable fame and fortune. Nicole Appleton and Liam Gallagher, currently dealing with the financials of their divorce, are good examples of parties for whom this question will have been vital. The parties, being household names of presumably great wealth, will no doubt have had to consider how to approach their divorce without the details of their marriage and of their respective financial positions being seized upon by the media.

So, what are the parties' options in these circumstances? The first option is to keep the matter out of Court altogether by using solicitors to negotiate the terms of the financial settlement on the basis of financial information provided through voluntary disclosure. Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration might also be considered. These approaches generally allow parties to avoid the risk of any potentially sensitive information finding its way to the front pages of the tabloids by keeping it between the parties and their lawyers.

The viability of these approaches very much relies on the parties' willingness to negotiate and, inevitably, to compromise in order to reach a settlement which both find acceptable. This may not be an option for some couples, however, in which case they will need to make an application to the Court to deal with their finances. In these instances, the parties have the second option of applying to the Judge for reporting restrictions to be placed on the media in relation to their case. If successful, an injunction against reporting will be made, such as that which Ms Appleton and Mr Gallagher have been recently granted, allowing the matter to be dealt with without fear of sensitive information coming into the public domain. The media will, however, be placed on notice when such an application is made, which potentially risks drawing attention to a divorce which might have otherwise gone unnoticed by the press. The application for restrictions can also be successfully opposed.

Whilst it might be interesting to open a newspaper and read about every detail of a celebrity couple's divorce, it is important to remember that they remain individuals going through a real-life challenging and upsetting experience, who are dealing with the added stress of their divorce being made public knowledge.

The above options are available to provide some protection against this and to allow greater peace of mind for divorcing couples - famous and non-famous alike.