Divorce disputes: sometimes it’s best just to move on

Divorce|August 11th 2014

Reading the first few paragraphs of the judgment in Hayes v Hayes is like reliving a nightmare of never-ending litigation and animosity between former spouses.

It began way back in the 1990s (the report doesn’t state exactly when) and in 1991 (or was it, as later stated in the report, 1999?) a ‘consent order’ was made, setting out an agreed financial/property settlement (yes, the parties were able to agree something then). Unfortunately, as Mr Justice Nugee says, they have been embroiled in numerous disputes ever since.

In March 1995 Mr Hayes was ordered to pay the costs of an unsuccessful appeal (the report doesn’t state what he was appealing against). Those costs were eventually assessed and in August 2000 Mr Hayes was ordered to pay £35,721.19. That sum was not paid and six years later Mrs Hayes issued a bankruptcy petition against Mr Hayes, based on that costs order plus interest, totalling £52,867.36.

Meanwhile, Mr Hayes had himself been busily litigating against Mrs Hayes and her new partner. In 2005 he issued a claim against them for damages for harassment, alleging that since February 2003, both of them had maintained “an unrelenting campaign” against him and his current wife, with the common theme that he had hidden monies in the order of £750,000 to £1 million abroad, a sum which, if found, would not only be used to pay the costs debt, but also form a basis for setting aside the consent order with a view to seeking an increased settlement.

The amount of damages that Mr Hayes was claiming was eventually fixed at over £1 million, although the claim has yet to be heard. In these circumstances, Mr Hayes opposed Mrs Hayes’ bankruptcy petition on the basis, among other things, that his cross-claim against Mrs Hayes exceeded the petition debt. The court dismissed the petition, and the present judgment relates to her unsuccessful appeal against that dismissal.

Hayes brings to mind a case I once had in which I was acting for the wife and there was a dispute as to the value of the husband’s business interests. The matter dragged on interminably, with the husband, of course, claiming that those interests were worth considerably less than appeared to be the case. The proceedings were obviously causing my client considerable stress.

I don’t recall how long the matter dragged on for, but eventually my client decided that she had had enough and that it was time to move on with her life. She therefore instructed me to accept the husband’s settlement offer. Despite the fact that this was contrary to my advice and the advice of counsel, I always respected her for her decision – I can certainly recall her sense of relief when it was all over.

I’m not saying that either party in Hayes should “give up the fight” – that is a matter for them. However, I know how these disputes can become all-consuming, casting a shadow over years of the participants’ lives. Occasionally, it may be best for them to stand back and ask themselves whether it really is worth proceeding. Sometimes, the answer may be “no”.

Read the judgement here.

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