A week in family law: Disproportionate costs, judicial conduct and Bills lost again

Family Law|November 1st 2019

Disproportionate

A judge has criticised a couple for spending over half a million pounds on family court proceedings. Lady Justice King began her judgment in the case in the Court of Appeal with the following: “This is yet another case where a highly educated couple with young children has engaged in lengthy, destructive and disproportionate legal proceedings. These disputes have continued for over five years with emotionally bruising and expensive litigation in relation to both money and the children of the marriage.

The present appeal is a second appeal in the financial remedy proceedings. The costs to date are in excess of £500,000. The only substantial asset in the case, a flat in Panama, has a net value of only £298,377. As a consequence, as the District Judge said in his first instance judgment: “There is no way that the parties’ comfortable lifestyle can be maintained. Much of this has been caused by the intolerable burden of costs”.

How often do we come across such cases, where the costs are out of all proportion to the value of the assets involved? If you are involved in family court proceedings, it is absolutely essential that you keep a check upon the costs that you are incurring, and that you do everything you can to resolve the matter without incurring excessive costs. You can read the full judgment in the case here.

Remarkable case

In a remarkable case, the Family Court has allowed an appeal against a District Judge’s ruling, after finding that the District Judge’s conduct had ‘crossed the line’, creating a tense and confrontational environment, and alienating those appearing before her. The case concerned the care of a one-year-old child. The District Judge had made a care order, followed by a placement order to facilitate a care plan for the child’s adoption. She rejected the alternative option of placement with the maternal grandmother and maternal step-grandfather.

In the grounds for appeal, it was said that the District Judge’s improper conduct was exemplified by “blasphemous words, shouting, storming out of Court and general intemperate behaviour”. Reference was also made to her use of sarcasm, shaking with rage, and turning her chair away from the Court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds. Handing down judgment in the appeal, His Honour Judge Mark Rogers said that he was satisfied that these matters were all well-founded. As I say, a remarkable case, although I should mention that Judge Rogers did also say this:

“It is worth remembering the pressures under which the judiciary at all levels operates. Public law or care work is enormously important and difficult. Family Judges, at all levels, make life-changing, profound decisions in relation to children on a virtually daily basis. Very often the subject matter underlying the cases is grim, highlighting the worst in human nature. The relentless and gruelling nature of the work for all involved, including Judges, can take its toll. My experience, however, is that there is not a single Judge or Magistrate undertaking this work whose aim is not to improve the lot and future of the child or children in question.”

You can read the full judgment here.

Bills lost again

And finally, the calling of a general election means that two important family law Bills have been lost. Again. Neither the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was to introduce a comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse, nor the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which was to introduce a system of no-fault divorce, will complete its passage through Parliament before it is dissolved on the 6th of November.

The Bills were previously carried over when Parliament was prorogued for the Queen’s Speech, but I understand that Bills cannot be carried over twice. Accordingly, it would seem that we must hope that they are re-introduced by the next government when presumably they must both start over again from scratch. An extremely disappointing state of affairs.

Have a good weekend.

Get in touch 

If you would like any advice on divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

You can read further advice on family law on the Stowe Family Law Blog. 

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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