Thursday 18 July 2019

Supreme Court judge hopes 16-year legal battle between divorced couple 'will now end'

Post divorce lump-sum pay-outs will be examined Stock picture
Post divorce lump-sum pay-outs will be examined Stock picture

Tim Healy

A Supreme Court judge has voiced hope that a 16 year legal battle between a couple - incurring costs of hundreds of thousands of euro -"will now end".

It followed orders that the woman gets 75 per cent of the balance of her ex-husband’s pension fund while he gets 25 per cent.

The pension fund originally had an estimated net value of €800,000 and the High Court ordered in 2013 the woman get 80 per cent, of which half was paid immediately. 

The man appealed over the pension orders but some payments out were permitted in the interim. 

The remaining pension entitlements were valued in July 2018 at about €550,000 and draw downs permitted to the man had the effect he got the total 20 per cent, about €265,000 including Additional Voluntary Contributions, he was entitled to under the 2013 order.

In his appeal, the Supreme Court had to decide how the remaining 40 per cent of the fund was to be distributed.

In the three judge court's judgment on Tuesday, Mr Justice John MacMenamim noted the circumstances of both have deteriorated since 2013 and both claim to be struggling financially, to have debts and deteriorating health.

The family home had been sold but the man has a home for his lifetime while the woman does not and is living with a "platonic friend", he said.

Of the estimated €222,000 pension monies paid to her so far, most had gone on legal fees, she appeared to have no assets or income and there was a dispute among her family members concerning her inheritance.

The court's duty under the Divorce Act to make "proper provision" meant, in the circumstances, she should get 75 per cent of the balance of the pension fund and the man would get 25 per cent, he held.

The couple are both in their sixties and separated about 20 years ago.

Legal proceedings began about 2002 and involved many disputes including over maintenance and custody of the couple’s now adult children who have successful careers.

After the High Court made orders in 2013 granting a divorce and financial orders, the man argued a pensions adjustment order where the woman was to get 80 per cent of his pension fund over a reckonable 16 year period was over generous while she maintained it was proper provision.

In his appeal, the man said his financial circumstances and health had deteriorated since 2013, he has substantial debts and is now insolvent. As well as the pension and other funds paid to his wife, he claimed he had paid maintenance totalling about €300,000 and she was due to inherit a property worth about €1m.

He claimed the funds appeared to have resulted in no tangible benefit to her and she had spent €15,000 on cosmetic surgery and bought a new car.

The woman said most of the funds she got went on legal fees, she is struggling to make ends meet, has no home of her own,  is in debt.

Both the man and woman also criticised “exorbitant” costs of some €40,000 sought by the pension scheme administrators and trustees in relation to the pension adjustment orders. Both have paid €20,000 each to meet those costs.

Mr Justice MacMenamin said the courts required assistance of the administrators and trustees in making pension adjustment orders but had no role concerning their costs and it was open to the parties to go to the Pensions Ombudsman.

He noted both the man and woman previously had lawyers but represented themselves in this appeal. 

This litigation has lasted 16 years at costs running to hundreds of thousands of Euro which could have been used by the parties had they resolved the issues between them, he said. He hoped it “will now end, as all cases ultimately must end”.

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