Divorce award lost on legal fees due to irresponsible conduct

The High Court divorce case of MB v EB highlights the importance of timely and informed negotiating in financial remedies cases.

The case involved a very wealthy wife, a struggling artist, a separation agreement and a very short childless marriage. The separation agreement already provided for a £245,000 sum for the husband to purchase a property and a further lump sum of £35,000. The only matter to be determined was if the husband should be paid anything further to help him meet his needs.

The husband claimed he required £25,000 a year to live on. He failed to respond to two proposals of £300,000 and £236,000 respectively from his wife, and a week before the hearing proposed that he should receive £1.3million. Mr Justice Cohen described that sum as "about as far wide of the mark as can be imagined." The Judge did however find that the husband was entitled to a lump sum for maintenance and awarded him £325,000, which would provide him an annual amount of £25,000 for life. He also awarded an additional sum of £10,000 for a car.

By the end of the case both parties had ran up legal costs of £1.25million, approximately half of which (£650,000) related to the husband. He sought an order for his wife to pay all of his costs as he had ‘won’, however Mr Justice Cohen took issue with the "irresponsible and unreasonable" manner in which the husband had ran his case, prolonging what should have been a very easy case to settle. The Judge capped the wife's liability for the husband's legal costs at £150,000, which were the costs that had been accumulated by June 2018 when she offered the sum of £300,000.

The final award to the husband was therefore £485,000, which not only meant he received nothing after payment of his legal fees, but there was also a shortfall and he was left with a substantial debt to his solicitors.

Lenore Rice, a solicitor specialising in divorce and family law at Wilson Nesbitt, commented:

“Costs applications in cases such as these are relatively few as parties who separate generally want a quick and cost effective resolution to all matters in an attempt to move on with their lives and accept the guidance and advices from their legal teams and were appropriate indications from the Court.  This case however illustrates the Court can and will entertain costs applications to the detriment of one party if that party behaves irresponsibly and/or unreasonably."

If you require legal advice from a family law solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.