There is a right way and a wrong way to conduct financial remedy proceedings on divorce. And if you choose the wrong way, then you are likely to be subjected to severe criticism by the judge, as a couple found to their cost in a recent case that took place in the Family Court at Bristol.
The case essentially concerned the husband's financial remedy application, but as we will see it ended up being about rather more than that, involving other issues and a number of other parties who were dragged into the dispute.
By the end of it all, the judge was critical of the way that both the husband and the wife conducted the proceedings. His criticisms include at least two lessons for anyone involved in financial remedy proceedings.
'Feral, unprincipled and unnecessarily expensive'
The first lesson is about the failure to keep to the simplest of rules: don't waste the judge's time.
Those involved in financial remedy proceedings are naturally anxious to not miss the opportunity to bring everything they want to to the attention of the court, including any claims they wish to make. But not all claims have merit.
Judges are very busy people, and like all busy people they are not happy when their precious time is wasted. And obviously the last thing you want to do when you go to court is to upset the judge.
In this case the judge, His Honour Stephen Wildblood QC, got straight to the point in the first paragraph of his judgment. He said: "These are feral, unprincipled and unnecessarily expensive financial remedy proceedings. It took days for me to read the papers and has taken even more days to write this judgment."
Needless to say, if you do not keep to the relevant issues and if you introduce meritless claims then you will waste the judge's time, forcing him or her to read all of the papers, and increasing the length of the proceedings. This will not only significantly increase your costs, but will also upset the judge.
It was the wife who wasted the judge's time with meritless claims. Specifically, she claimed that the husband had interests in two other properties apart from the matrimonial home, a claim that the judge described as 'hopeless'. As a result, a case that the judge said should have been simple was anything but.
And because her claims inevitably failed, the wife had to pay the costs of the true owners of the properties, who had been made respondents to the proceedings.
But it was not just the wife that attracted the judge's ire. The conduct of the husband gave rise to the second, and very obvious, lesson: be completely honest with the court.
The husband, said the judge, had given to the court a 'dishonest portrayal' of his role within a restaurant business. He had portrayed himself as a mere employee of the business, when in fact the business was controlled by him and his brother, and he took far more out of it than he had stated. He was also able to live rent and utility bill free above the restaurant.
As a result of the way that the parties conducted themselves in the course of the proceedings they ran up legal bills of more than £200,000, when the total value of the assets actually in dispute was only some £730,000.
Judge Wildblood commented that a significant proportion of those costs had been driven by the wife's dogmatic pursuit of her 'speculative and unprincipled' claims, and by the husband's dishonest portrayal of his position within the business.
The outcome of the case, which need not be detailed here, was not in this instance affected by the conduct of the parties. But they both ran up huge costs, which ultimately reduced the assets available for division between them.
The lessons are clear: do not bring meritless claims, and be honest with the court. Failure to follow these lessons can result in significant consequences.
Originally published 19 July 2022
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