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Litigants in person -beware costs orders in divorce cases

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A couple had been married for over 30 years and were in their late 60s.  They had had four children together. 

Within divorce proceedings it was established that between them the parties had business assets, mainly comprising of property and personal assets in excess of £4.6 million.  The husband had decided to represent himself in the court proceedings.  This is known as being a litigant in person and can often lead to a lengthening of court proceedings as a non-trained lawyer attempts to grapple with complex family law proceedings.  This case was no exception. Fortunately for the trial Judge it was agreed that the couple’s assets should be divided equally between them, having regard to their joint ventures and very lengthy marriage.

At various court hearings the Judge had made costs orders against the husband and at the final hearing the Judge decided that to equalise the division of the parties assets fairly the wife needed to be paid a lump sum of £322,000.  However the Judge had regard to the husband’s misconduct in relation to the court proceedings, notably that he had forged his wife’s signature on a re-mortgage application, and as a consequence the Judge ordered that the husband was to pay a lump sum of £500,000. The husband appealed the decision. 

In most financial proceedings which take place within the context of divorce proceedings, the general rule is that each party is responsible for paying their own legal costs.   However, there is a discretion to penalise one party in respect of excessive costs which have been wasted as a result of their conduct or unreasonable approach.

The Court of Appeal decided, in this instance, that it was wrong for the trial Judge to round up the wife’s lump sum payment by a further £178,000 to include a sum for her  legal costs  and therefore reduced the lump sum to the amount that the trial Judge originally had in mind.   However, Mr Ezair could not claim a full victory.  The Court of Appeal sent the case back to the trial Judge inviting him to review his order in respect of costs and to assess the costs which the husband should pay as a separate part of the order.     

In these straitened economic times more and more people are being forced to represent themselves in court proceedings.  In a case such as this, one would have thought that the husband could have afforded to fund his legal representation and on mature reflection it may have been better for him if he had done so.  Engaging the expertise of a specialist family law solicitor may well, in the long run, prove to be a cost effective course of action, particularly if a wasted costs order, is thereby avoided.

Members of the Family Law Team here at Gepp & Sons are ready to help support and guide you through the complex family law system and with their assistance you may well be able to achieve a better and more cost effective solution for you and your family.

If you need advice on any family law, divorce or related financial matters please do not hesitate to make an appointment to see a member of our Family Law Team on 01245 228126 for a free initial consultation.