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13 November 2014

Judge’s dismay at couples litigating over divorce settlement

The recent case of J v J is yet another example of cases in which the Judge was dismayed with the extravagant and unnecessary way in which both parties had run up costs, which were out of all proportion to the issues involved.

The case involved a financial remedies claim following divorce, heard by Mr Justice Mostyn in the High Court.  The couple, who had married in the 1990s and separated in 2011, are aged 54 (husband) and 44 (wife).  There are two teenage children.

Over the course of their 18 year marriage, the couple built up their assets of around £2.9 million, however, in litigating the divorce, they spent a total of £920,000 in legal costs.  That equates to almost one third of their joint assets.  This reduced the couple’s total assets to just under £2 million.

The couple’s dispute over who should get what, the Judge claims, was “easily settleable” and he said he was “almost lost for words” at the “scale of the madness”.  The Judge said that this case had imposed on the High Court a seven day trial where the principle focus had been a bitter war of recrimination and denunciation about who was more at fault and called it an appalling state of affairs.

The Judge concluded that the wife should get assets worth just over £1 million and the husband, who had spent £182,000 more on costs than his estranged wife, should get just under £900,000 worth of assets.

The upshot was that from the pre-costs starting point of there being £2,885,000 of assets, the wife will receive £1,123,500 (38.9% of the assets); the lawyers and experts will receive £920,000 (31.9%); and the husband will receive £841,500 (29.2%).  The Judge said that these figures speak for themselves and such a result should not be allowed to happen again.

Emma Alfieri from our family team commented that this case contains a clear message for litigants and shows that proportionality must always be considered.  Mr Justice Mostyn made it clear that he felt the two parties in this case were wrong to carry on the litigation proceedings and that in actual fact, the case was easily settleable.

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