GOLD DIGGERS OR TRAIL BLAZERS?

On the face of it any woman taking her ex to court having already had a divorce settlement worth north of £10 million should be filed under greedy cow.  But the action Alison Sharland is taking in a joint bid with fellow divorcee Vasha Gohil raises issues way beyond their own circumstances.  Lawyers for both women have made the case that both erstwhile husbands were not so much economical with the truth in relation to their net worth, as being just plain fraudulent.  And both men would be well aware that a penalty for telling divorce court porkies has rarely  been applied.

The case reminds us of several unpalatable facts the law where women (almost always women) are seeking a fair division of the marital spoils.  Although any reputable lawyer will urge his or her client to be upfront about what they own in terms of cash and property, there is every reason to suppose that advice is regularly ignored. People tell the court what  they think they can get away with, having deployed a range of ingenious schemes to hide assets where the legal sun doesn't much shine.

These women only found out later that their former partners were worth very many more millions than they indicated.  And it has to be said that it is only because they have certain funds at their disposal that they've been able to pursue a more just  award.  It's very rare for these settlements to be re-visited partly because of the courts disinclination to do so, and partly because very few ex spouses can afford to raise an action.

So although one of these women will never have to worry about where her next luncheon voucher is coming from, her bid will matters to tens of thousands of women who have been similarly cheated, but have been unable to do anything about it outside of not grinning but bearing it.   A successful outcome for this duo will serve as a precedent, and perhaps persuade the judicial system that lying about your assets is perjury and should be punished as such pour encourager les autres to be honest.

It's worth noting too that we're living through times which makes it more and more difficult for ordinary people to navigate divorce and separation through a just court settlement.  Legal aid in England and Wales has been withdrawn for all but the neediest of applicants which means, in effect, that people will again find themselves trapped in sometimes appalling and abusive relationships.

Meanwhile, up and down the country, women's refuges have shut up shop because councils, bearing the brunt of their own austerity cuts, have withdrawn essential funding.  It has long been the case that many women stay in a  profoundly unhappy or destructive relationship because, if they are the primary carers of children, they quite literally have no alternative. They don't have the funds to access an ever more difficult housing market, there is not sufficient social housing to cope with the demand, and now even the basic safety net of a refuge is unavailable for increasing numbers of those who might otherwise flee.  And, let's face it, you have to be pretty desperate to take your kids into a houseful of strangers and think it the better option for them than their own home.

The UK government's answer to this growing body of misery is a plan to force housing associations to sell off their affordable homes, to force councils to decant homeless families away from familiar surroundings and make yet more "efficiency savings",  to further restrict legal aid, and to turn a deaf ear to those third sector providers who warn them about the numbers of charitable ventures now having to shut up shop.

Meanwhile the Osborne Cameron combo continue the mirthless joke that they are blue collar conservatives interested only in the welfare of "hard working families", averting their eyes from the hundreds of thousands of very hard working families who have been pushed into poverty and rely on food banks to stop their families going hungry.

In this loser takes nothing society, the least the law can do is ensure that when families do break up there is fairness and justice in determining the settlement.