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The Hobbies That Can Hamper Fair Divorce Settlements

12/06/2013 10:36 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 10:12 BST

There is endless debate, both in legal circles and the media, about whether the rules of thumb family judges use to determine settlements result in fair settlements for both parties as often as they should.

One of the main difficulties for those tasked with imposing settlements on couples who struggle to reach an agreement is that many marriages work on the basis that one party contributes more towards the couple's financial stability while the other takes on more of the domestic burden.

Unfortunately, sometimes financially stronger spouses can be less than 100 per cent honest about the value of their possessions, making it more difficult to arrive at a just decision.

A worrying phenomenon we have witnessed in a number of recent cases is spouses taking advantage of their partners' lack of knowledge about their hobbies to sway settlements their way.

In one case, a car enthusiast attempted to pass off the collection of vintage Italian car parts he had accumulated as almost worthless. It was only when his soon-to-be ex-wife called in an expert valuer to assess his garage that they were revealed to be worth no less than £2.2 million.

Collectible cars are one of the biggest culprits for hidden value in a divorce settlement. Why? Because the story behind the car can make a vast difference to how much it's worth.

For example, a 1950s Austin Healey might cost you upwards of £30,000. However, the actual Austin Healey that was involved in the Le Mans disaster in 1955 - one of the most famous crashes in motorsport history - earned over £800,000 at auction, despite having seen better days, aesthetically speaking.

Note-worthy cars pose a unique problem for divorce courts because of the perception that their value is easy to judge by tapping the make and model into Google - when actually this will often wildly under-value them. Persuading a judge that closer inspection is justified is not always easy.

In another case, a wife's doll collection had been given a nominal value by her lawyer and it was only on closer inspection that it turned out to be full of highly collectible examples and worth over £10,000. Again, it takes a specialist to give an accurate estimate the value of these kinds of goods, and experts in collectible dolls are few and far between.

Other objects of passion that commonly slip under the radar include vintage wristwatches, musical instruments and stamp collections.

The message to those getting divorced - whether they are in the rarefied circles of those who own millions of pounds worth of car parts or dolls or whether less well off - is that it's important to look carefully at the value of all of your shared possessions if you are to stand any chance of a just agreement.

Divorce settlements will always involve compromises on both sides, and the best decisions are those where no-one walks away feeling like they have lost out more than their former other-half.

Some divorcees might argue that what the other person doesn't know won't hurt them.

But, for those who might be tempted to keep quiet about the true value of their most treasured possessions, the fact is that hiding wealth in divorce proceedings not only hinders a fair outcome, it is also unlawful. No matter how much you might love your hard-won collection - being dishonest about its value could land you in a lot of trouble.

Remember, you may end up lying to a judge and this is an offence that could land you in prison. There have been cases where deceptive divorcees have ended up in prison for over a year - and it's hard to imagine a much worse result than that.