Prest v Petrodel: spouses cannot hide wealth in companies to avoid losing it upon divorce

By Ian Bradshaw

On 12 June 2013, the Supreme Court laid down a marker by unanimously allowing an appeal by Yasmin Prest and allowing her to get her hands on assets held by her ex-husband in numerous companies in his name. The thinking behind this decision appears to try and rebalance the power held by both parties upon a divorce. While it is true that any person can put their wealth into companies to protect themselves, the Supreme Court felt that this gave too much power to the economically powerful.

The ruling, on first glance, would seem to allow the courts to pierce the corporate veil in these circumstances — a decision favoured by those who wish the courts to deliver justice, rather than enforce the law. It contradicts long-standing principles that a company is independent of its shareholders and that ownership of a company will not allow for assets to be obtained in legal proceedings, unless in cases of fraudulent or dishonest use of the company. Contrast this with family law principles whereby courts take a strict view on spouses who own and control companies, with no third-party interests, especially where these companies have been used to help fund a wealthy family lifestyle…

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