Which case won?

The case for the wife and her solicitor
  • There was a verbal agreement between my ex-husband and me that I was to have 100% ownership of property P.
  • Even though my ex-husband and I were both named as owners of property P, the verbal agreement still holds weight.
  • My ex-husband gave me verbal permission to sign documents on his behalf.
  • The solicitor had worked with many paired clients in the past, where one would take the lead and the other would assume a more passive role.
  • It’s true that I signed the contract for sale on behalf of my ex-husband, but that's only because we had agreed in the past that property P would be mine and that another property, property B, would be his.
  • My ex-husband was paying me $500 per week indefinitely to work from property P as part of our business venture. Doesn’t that indicate my ownership?
The case for the husband
  • Property P did not belong to my ex-wife 100% - we were both owners, listed on the certificate of title as tenants-in-common in equal share.
  • My ex-wife should not have forged my signature on the contract for sale of the property. It was illegal for her to do so.
  • My ex-wife should not have forged statements from me supposedly allowing her to sell the property and receive the whole of the proceeds. By doing this, she effectively stole my half of the property. She needs to pay me my half of the sale proceeds, plus interest.
  • Property B has nothing to do with my ex-wife. I am the sole owner of this property and my ex-wife has never made any contribution to it.
  • My ex-wife should not have had her cousin pose as me. That was a blatant act of deception which proves her dishonesty.
  • Obviously, the solicitor was negligent. He should have checked the identity of the person posing as me.
  • The solicitor owed me a duty of care and was negligent in not asking the impersonator to produce a photo ID.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out
Case A Case B

Case B won. You were right!

How people voted
case a12%
case b88%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

Sue Steel
Sue SteelConveyancing Paralegal
“Human nature is full of flaws and fraudulent behaviour can affect anyone at any time. If your relationship breaks up, it is important to ensure that your property is secured and all loose ends are tied.”
Court finds ex-wife acted fraudulently

In the case of Chen v Gu: Chen v Nguyen [2011] NSWSC 1622, the court ruled in favour of the husband, Mr Hao Chen, who brought proceedings against his ex-wife, Ms Hui Qin Gu, and her solicitor, Mr Van Uu (Warren) Nguyen, over dealings related to a property in Penshurst which Mr Chen and Ms Gu had jointly owned.

The court determined that Mr Chen was entitled to succeed against Ms Gu and Mr Nguyen in the amount of $235,514, in addition to being entitled to an order for all of his costs of the proceedings.

Mr Chen was successful based on all the fraudulent steps taken by his ex-wife.

Who owned the property in Penshurst?

Mr Chen’s claim was based on his wife’s fraudulent actions and on section 120 of the NSW Real Property Act 1900, dealing with proceedings for compensation, which can be commenced in the Supreme Court by any person who suffers loss or damage in respect of any land as a result of fraud.

The court found that Mr Chen and Ms Gu were indeed equal owners of the property in Penshurst as tenants in common in equal share.

Mutual attacks on credibility

The question of the credibility of Mr Chen and Ms Gu and their respective witnesses assumed paramount importance in the case, as each of the protagonists went to great lengths to attack the credibility of the other.

While the court found that Mr Chen was “not a reliable witness”, he was also not found to be untruthful about any matter directly related to the core question of the case – that is, whether he and Ms Gu made a verbal agreement in 2000 in relation to the Penshurst property (as Ms Gu alleged) and whether or not he authorised her to deal with the property.

Multiple dishonest acts comprehensively destroy credibility

By contrast, Ms Gu’s credibility was found to have been “comprehensively destroyed” by the many steps she took to ensure that she obtained what was not provided to her at the Family Court property settlement.

This included bringing her cousin to meetings with Mr Nguyen to pose as Mr Chen while knowing that Mr Chen did not intend to execute the documents, not telling Mr Nguyen that she and Mr Chen had separated or were divorced, not appointing a real estate agent, trying to sell the Penshurst property to a friend without advertising it, lying to the purchasers about where her husband was and forging Mr Chen’s signature on multiple documents.

The judge concluded: “I am unable to accept anything Ms Gu says.”

Did Mr Chen agree to give Ms Gu his half interest in the Penshurst property?

Ms Gu maintained that Mr Chen had made a verbal agreement with her that she would have 100% ownership of the Penshurst property.

This was despite the fact that both Mr Chen and Ms Gu were named as owners on the certificate of title and that upon their divorce, the orders of the Family Court specified that each of them was the sole legal owner of one half of the property.

The court discussed a conversation Ms Gu alleged she had with Mr Chen regarding the division of their property, in which Ms Gu claimed they negotiated an arrangement where she received full ownership of the Penshurst property, while Mr Chen retained sole ownership of another property in Beverly Hills.

Ultimately the court determined that Mr Chen had a half interest in the Penshurst property and that Ms Gu had acted fraudulently. The consent orders of the Family Court were to be upheld and Ms Gu was found to be in contempt of those orders.

Was the solicitor negligent?

As the solicitor who assisted Ms Gu, Mr Nguyen was charged with negligence in regard to his contribution to her fraudulent behaviour. The court held that Mr Nguyen owed a duty of care to Mr Chen and that duty had been breached.

It would have been easy for Mr Nguyen to ask the “Mr Chen” who was presented to him for photo identification, such as a driver’s licence or passport. It was negligent of him as a lawyer facilitating a property transaction not to do so.

Tying up loose ends when a relationship ends

Human nature is full of flaws and fraudulent behaviour can affect anyone at any time.

If your relationship breaks up, it is important to ensure that your property is secured and all loose ends are tied.

NOTICE: This article is accurate as at the time of publication and does not constitute legal advice. Please see our legal notices page for more information. Information related to coronavirus can be outdated very quickly.

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