Saturday 17 August 2019

€0.5m fee for a separation is just wrong, says judge

Stock picture: Getty
Stock picture: Getty

Tim Healy

There is a "serious flaw" in our legal system when it permits more than €500,000 legal fees to be correctly charged for a woman's judicial separation, a High Court judge said.

The costs exclude the costs of separate divorce proceedings yet to be heard, Mr Justice Michael Twomey said.

What is concerning is that, in "highly personal and acrimonious" family law disputes, "where children and loving relationships are pulled asunder", litigants are not protected from "their own unreasonableness", to prevent them incurring inordinate legal fees.

The woman's lawyers had sought €635,000 in fees, she did not seek to have them reduced, and a High Court Taxing Master held €508,000 of that was properly charged, he said.

Her husband's legal costs for the separation were €127,000 and the High Court had held he had a legitimate interest in trying to ensure her costs were minimised.

Mr Justice Twomey said he could not say whether €508,000 for one party's costs in a judicial separation was "most unusual".

Another judge had rejected the husband's claim the €508,000 should be further cut and held the husband made serious unsupported allegations against the woman's solicitor for costs also "flatly contradicted" by the woman.

As matters stand, €508,000 has been properly charged in legal fees for the woman, he said. This was "an inordinate amount" of money to pay for a daily occurrence here, court-ordered marriage break-ups.

A €508,000 fee would involve 1,693 hours work based on the €300 per hour used by the Taxing Master in his review. Not all fees were charged on a time basis. If such fees were incurred by the other party, it would cost more than €1m legal fees for a couple to separate.

England and Wales have considered whether certain trials there should be limited to two days with costs capped at £50,000 (€56,500), he observed.

While the woman's lawyers said the Taxing Master "only" cut the bill by €127,000, this reduction was not something insignificant.

There appeared to have been unreasonable conduct by both parties in the separation, he said. There were issues concerning the fees incurred by the woman and the man's delay providing financial information added to the length and costs of the proceedings. He made the comments in a judgment dealing with pre-divorce trial applications by the husband seeking various documents and recordings relating to her costs.

Irish Independent

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