High Court judge tells couple their £920,000 divorce was a waste of time and money after they squandered a third of their fortune on lawyers’ fees
A High Court judge has told a couple that their £920,000 divorce was a waste of time and money after they spent nearly a third of their multi-million pound fortune on legal fees.
The businessman and his wife, known only as J and J, ran up the extortionate bills paying for lawyers and experts to advise them on the division of nearly £3 million in joint assets.
It meant the 54-year-old man was left with a share of the estate that was worth £841,500 – nearly £200,000 less than the amount spent on their lawyers. His wife, 44, received roughly £1,120,000.
The ‘eye-watering’ sum prompted Mr Justice Mostyn, who analysed the case, to call for reforms that will set a ‘costs cap’ on what lawyers can charge their clients.
The judge said the time had come for law-makers to ‘do something’ about excess litigation costs run up by couples arguing over who should get what.
He called for change in a written ruling after analysing the businessman’s case at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in Manchester.
He said: ‘I must confess to have been almost lost for words when the scale of this madness was revealed to me.’
The couple, who have two teenage children, started living together in the mid-1990s and separated in 2011 after being together for 18 years.
The costs of the case started to rise when the couple spent £150,000 employing forensic accountants to value the man’s market gardening business.
The couple commissioned so many reports that they presented the court with a total of 12 files.
Mr Justice Mostyn said the spending transformed a case that was ‘surely so easily settleable’ into one that was ‘almost impossible to compromise’.
He said he had presided over a seven-day trial where the ‘principal focus’ had been a ‘bitter war of recrimination and denunciation about who was more at fault for this appalling state of affairs’.
And he concluded that the woman should get assets worth just over £1 million and the man, who had spent £182,000 more on costs that his estranged wife, just under £900,000 worth of assets.
He added: ‘Such a result should not be allowed to happen again,’ before calling for two measures to be introduced – a costs cap and a fixed pricing for cases.
He said: ‘Law-makers must stop saying something must be done and actually do something.’
He said that the court should be able to impose a ‘costs cap’ at the ‘very beginning of the case’ on ‘what may be charged by the lawyers to their client. He said a cap could be varied if there was a ‘big change’ in circumstances.
He added that under current rules the power of the court to controlled such fees is ‘very limited’.
Mr Justice Mostyn also supported legislation that would allow a client to demand a fixed price for a case. This would mark a change in the payment structure as clients are currently charged per hour.
He said he hoped that it might help bring down the number of people who appeared in court representing themselves.
He said: ‘If a litigant on the cusp of self-representation knew at the start of the case how much it was going to cost for each phase then he may well opt for representation.’
He concluded: ”In my opinion only if these two steps are taken will the grotesque leaching of costs, such as has occurred in this case, be arrested.’