High Court awards divorcing wife a charge over her estranged husband’s property

Divorce|June 13th 2014

The High Court has awarded a wife involved in a “heavily contested” divorce proceedings a financial “charge” over one of her husband’s properties.

In AM v SS, the couple were married in 2007 and separated two years later. The husband, at 45, was 17 years older than the wife.

Sitting at the High Court in London in London, Mr Justice Moylan said the pair had been “involved in litigation in England since that time”.

He continued:

“The litigation has been costly.  The husband has spent something in the region of £200,000 and it appears that the wife has spent something in the region of £250,000, a combined total of £450,000.”

The wife now sought a ‘legal services order’. Such orders require the other party in a particular case to pay the applicant’s legal costs. Issued under sections 22ZA and 22ZB of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the person applying must prove that they have no alternative means of funding their costs and that the other party has  the means to do so.

She sought a payment of approximately £226,000, consisting of £104,000, which she currently owed to her solicitors, plus an additional £122,000 to cover her costs till the end of the financial proceedings in her divorce.

The wife claimed the husband had significant wealth, received regular large sums from his father, and was the owner or co-owner of several expensive properties in both London and Cairo.

Mr Justice Moylan explained:

“The wife’s case is that the husband has very significant financial resources and that during the marriage the parties enjoyed a lavish lifestyle.”

The wife, by contrast, reportedly had only one asset: part ownership of a property predominantly owned by her parents in Morocco. But this was “completely illiquid”, the court heard, and her parents could not help her to fund her costs.

The husband, by contrast, insisted that he in fact owned only one of the properties cited by his estranged wife – in Maida Vale, London. The others were actually owned by his father, or by company with links to his father. A property in Acton, a London suburb, was in fact owned by the husband’s sister, and had only been put in the husband’s name by his father because the latter had a “poor” relationship with the sister at the time and wanted to keep the house out of the hands of her husband.

The judge accepted the husband’s account, declaring:

“During the course of the hearing it seemed to me that, if I decided that it was right to make an order, I might come to the conclusion that the only asset which I can safely conclude is or might be available [to the husband] is the equity in the Maida Vale Property.”

He also accepted that the wife was not in a position to fund her legal costs without assistance. But, the judge also came to the conclusion that an award of the full amount sought for the legal services order would be “disproportionate”.

He therefore ordered the husband to provide his estranged wife with a ‘charge’ on the Maida Vale property to cover her legal costs. A charge is security for money owed via interest in a property.

Mr Justice Moylan declared:

“Having regard in particular to the current position, namely that the wife’s solicitors are already, and without any protection at all, owed £104,000, I propose to order the husband to provide the wife a charge over the Maida Vale Property in a fixed amount to cover the payment of her legal services.  I propose to limit the amount of the charge to £150,000.”

Read the full judgement here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    If more is paid out under a legal services order than the wife eventually gets are the solicitors personally liable to refund the balance?

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