'Liar' must hand back £110,000 to ex-husband

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A woman who claimed her second marriage never took place was branded a liar on Tuesday and ordered to repay £110,000 in maintenance to her first husband.

A woman who claimed her second marriage never took place was branded a liar on Tuesday and ordered to repay £110,000 in maintenance to her first husband.

Beatrice Handschin, 54, said a marriage certificate showing there was a ceremony at Hackney Register Office, east London, on 27 November 1991 between herself and Kamel Madjoudj was a forgery.

But Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the High Court family division, ruled that Ms Handschin had been "clearly lying" and was well aware that if she remarried, her £20,000-a-year maintenance settlement would come to an end.

Ms Handschin said it would have been "ridiculous" for her to marry Mr Madjoudj and that she could not have been in Hackney for the wedding because she was attending university that day. Ms Handschin met Mr Madjoudj while he was working at a hotel in Northampton in 1989, when she was 44 and he was 24. They became lovers within weeks of meeting and he stayed regularly at the former matrimonial home she won in her divorce settlement from her first husband, Dame Elizabeth said.

Mr Madjoudj, who was born in Algiers and came to Britain in 1985 without a work permit, told the judge that he loved Ms Handschin "very much" and she loved him "very, very much". The pair opened a restaurant in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, which in its first year won a place in the Good Food Guide. Ms Handschin raised the money for the business by mortgaging her home for £51,000 and installed Mr Madjoudj as manager while she continued with her course at the University of East Anglia.

The judge said their relationship fell apart after Ms Handschin claimed Mr Madjoudj phoned her from the restaurant to tell her that he was in love with her daughter, Vanessa, and wanted to have sex with her and marry her. Police were called after a serious argument and, when they went to arrest Mr Madjoudj, he produced the marriage certificate.

Ms Handschin said that was the first time she had heard of the marriage and that she and Vanessa had looked at each other horrified.

In a case which family lawyers have described as "very unusual", Ms Handschin will now have to repay her first husband, Douglas Wilson, the maintenance he paid her while she was married to Mr Madjoudj. She will also have to pay interest on the maintenance and court costs estimated by lawyers at £100,000.

Mr Wilson became aware of his wife's second marriage in 1997 when he received a copy of the marriage certificate from an anonymous source.

Swiss-born Ms Handschin married Mr Wilson, a Scot, in 1968. She was granted custody of their three children, Vanessa, now 26, Lawrence, 20, and Markus, 17, when they divorced in 1989. As part of the settlement Mr Wilson was ordered to pay Ms Handschin £20,000 a year, £9,000 maintenance for the children and give her the familyhome, a £400,000 property near Northampton, free of mortgage.

James Pirrie, a family law expert at the Family Law Consortium, said he had not come across a case of that type in his 18 years of practice. He said under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 the court does have a discretion to order repayment of maintenance. "Questions must now be asked why there is not a system in place whereby the register office alerts the court about a second marriage," he said.