Can high-profile divorcees guarantee their anonymity in reports of their financial settlement?

31/05/2022

There has been a recent move towards greater transparency in divorce and family proceedings, with parties no longer guaranteed anonymity from being named in court judgments or the press. Teena Dhanota-Jones examines the current position and what couples can do if they do not want to be identified.

By ‘high-profile’, I mean people we read about online or in broadsheets, tabloids, and magazines, some of whom I have represented. The terms these publications use to draw attention to high-profile people are “celebrities”, “the rich and famous”, “politicians”, “the uber-wealthy”, “Love Islanders” (and the like), “supermodels”, “entrepreneurs”, “influencers,” “musicians” and so on.

Financial remedy proceedings are the part of the divorce or marriage dissolution process that addresses the division of the parties’ assets. Such proceedings are heard in private (‘in chambers’), and the only people present are the parties, their legal teams, the judge, and the judge’s clerk. In recent years, there has been a move towards greater transparency in family proceedings. Accredited members of the press (and others such as legal bloggers) are now allowed to be present, record and publish a report, subject to any reporting restrictions imposed by existing law and the judge.

Having qualified in 1999, I have become accustomed to the parties’ names not appearing on reported judgments. A reported judgment is one that provides useful judicial guidance to the legal profession on points of law.

In all these years, it has been the norm not to learn of the parties’ names in these reported judgments. I would say this is necessary as nobody likes to air their dirty laundry in public. Also, many reported judgments disclose personal financial information and commonly a detailed summary of a couple’s assets and liabilities and, in turn, the judge’s breakdown of those assets between the parties. So, the anonymity of the parties has always been thought of by the courts as necessary and important.

However, Mr Justice Mostyn (a high-profile judge in the family court) has caused rumbles about anonymity in recent financial remedy proceedings. He has declared that while these proceedings are private, the starting point is that parties “should be named in any judgment, even if it is painful and humiliating for them”. So, unless a judge restricts reporting on the basis that it would identify something particularly sensitive or compromise the couple’s children in some way, the starting point now is that parties do not automatically have anonymity.

The takeaway for high profile divorcees who do not want to be named and are involved in a case that will be reported would be to seek advice on pursuing an application for anonymity. Failing this, it is more than likely that your name will be disclosed in any reported judgment and press report of the proceedings.

Teena Dhanota-Jones would like to acknowledge the assistance of James Webb (1 Hare Court) in the preparation of this article.

If you require any further information, please contact Teena Dhanota-Jones at tdj@portner.co.uk.