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30 March 2015
Wife loses £2million divorce battle because she signed a 'post-nup agreement'
A judge heard William and Caroline Hopkins, who had lived together near Wincanton, Somerset, married more than three decades after starting an affair, but separated after less than three years.
The High Court in London heard the couple, who separated in the summer of 2011, had signed a 'post-nuptial' agreement under which Mrs Hopkins would receive two properties, £350,000 and a share of her ex-husband's pension.
But Mrs Hopkins, 62, complained that the agreement had been breached after she was put under 'undue pressure' and exploited - and argued that she should be awarded a further £2million.
Deputy High Court Judge Nicholas Cusworth QC, in a written ruling, said that he preferred Mr Hopkins's evidence - and added Mrs Hopkins had 'sought to underplay' the agreement and had 'dramatised' what happened.
He rejected her claim of 'undue influence' and cleared Mr Hopkins of 'badgering and harassing' her.
Mrs Hopkins had claimed her ex-husband was worth £54.3 million, although he put the figure at £38.4 million.
She also accused her former husband of 'bullying' her into signing up to the deal. Mr Hopkins, 66, described by lawyers as a multi-millionaire property developer, disputed her claim and offered another £200,000.
She said that when she had questioned the fairness of the agreement, he had become 'uncontrollably angry', raising his fist and tightening her clothes around her neck.
But Mr Hopkins denied there was any such incident, but accepted there may have been 'some physical tension' between them during an 'extremely fraught' time as their marriage broke down.
The court heard Mr Hopkins and Mrs Hopkins had written lists of 'how things could change' to each other shortly before separating.
Mr Hopkins had written at the top of his list: 'I would like to be listened to' but Mrs Hopkins added 'listening' third on her list.
The couple, now in their 60s, met in the 1980s while both were married with young children.
They had a child together after what was described as a 'clandestine affair', but only married in 2009.
After moving in together in Wincanton in 2001, they married after Mr Hopkins had begged her to
give him 'one last chance', the court heard.
But just over a year after their wedding, Mrs Hopkins went to see a divorce lawyer to seek advice about her entitlements – and the post-nuptial agreement was signed in August 2011.
Under the deal, Mrs Hopkins got the family home - 'Lynwood', in Wincanton, which is valued at more than £530,000 as well as an investment property worth about £250,000.
She also received a 50% stake in her husband's pension, worth more than £200,000.
However, Mrs Hopkins had claimed liabilities, including legal costs bills, and said she would be left with less than £430,000, before pensions.
She sought £2million, claiming she would need every penny to meet her reasonable needs.
But the judge ruled it would simply be 'unfair' to Mr Hopkins if his ex-wife was not held to the terms of the post-nup.
He found Mr Hopkins had done nothing which undermined her ability to 'form her own mind' about the agreement and what it meant.
Mrs Hopkins, at the time, 'was rational, thoughtful, saddened by her situation, but certainly capable of independent thought'.
'She knew her own mind and was keenly aware of her own objectives', the judge added.
Although Mr Hopkins had 'confessed to bullying behaviour' in some letters he wrote, Judge Cusworth concluded: 'I reject the wife's case that she was operating under any undue influence, duress or improper pressure when she entered into the post-nuptial settlement'.
'I do not find it to be a dishonest document. I find that it was entered into freely by the wife, and with full appreciation of its implications.'
She had received 'copious volumes of legal advice' before signing her name on the dotted line.
Mrs Hopkins had never contended for more than a 'needs-based award' following her divorce, and the judge said that was what the post-nup gave her.
Lamenting the titanic expense of the case, the judge said the pair had run up lawyers' bills of more than £750,000 fighting over money.
Even after receiving the £200,000 lump sum, Mrs Hopkins would still owe over £120,000 in legal costs.
The cost of the case to Mr Hopkins came to £638,097 - including the lump sum awarded to Mrs Hopkins.