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DIY Detective Work in Divorce Proceedings

Monday, 1 February 2010

DIY Detective Work in Divorce Proceedings

Lisa Tchenguiz, the estranged wife of former Del Monte owner, Vivian Imerman, recently won the right to use 20,000 documents, which were stolen from Mr. Imerman's computer, in an attempt to have a share of his £300 million fortune.

The issue was raised in this case whether or not one party in divorce proceedings should be allowed to use documentation that has essentially been stolen from the other party.

The judge in this instance concluded that Tchenguiz was permitted to use the documents obtained as it was too late to try and stop her. It was ruled that although the documents were privileged Tchenguiz could still use the information obtained to prove her husband's current wealth. Imerman told the court that he would give full disclosure of his finances, which is a legal requirement. However, Tchenguiz was ordered to pay indemnity costs of over £500,000 to show the courts disapproval of her conduct and to act as a public deterrent to prevent others considering similar action.

The case, which is due to be heard in the Court of Appeal, is yet another example of a high profile case, where a spouse has taken part in "DIY" detective work, with the idea of discovering hidden finances.

The recent case of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White demonstrated similar 'detective' work. White claims that his estranged wife's solicitor's had told her to intercept his mail and take documents, a claim which both the solicitor and Mrs. White deny. White recently won a landmark ruling enabling him to seek damages from the wife's solicitors for "wrongful interference with his property after she intercepted his mail". If White wins his case, any spouse wanting to undertake their own "DIY" detective work may incur considerable financial penalties as a result.

Although judges have made it clear that while taking, copying and immediately returning documents is allowable, interception and retention of originals or removal of any hard disks is not. Yet if such behaviour is acceptable in the Family Courts, it may not be protected from the civil law. This is hazardous territory alike for a divorcing spouse and their lawyers, who might still be liable to a civil claim for wrongful interference with property or for trespass.

The family law department at Rollingsons are experienced in dealing with all aspects of divorce. Please contact 020 7611 4848 or email