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Separating Couples Urged To Avoid Example Of Costly Court Dispute

Expert Calls On People To Consider Alternative Approaches To Agreeing Asset Split


By Rob Dixon

Couples going through the process of separation have been urged by a family law expert to remember the different options available to them when it comes to deciding how to split assets, after a High Court case highlighted how such battles can prove both lengthy and costly.

The case of Evans v Evans related to Mark Evans and his ex-wife Jenifer, who had taken legal action over how their £40 million of assets was split between them.

While a ruling stated that Mrs Evans should receive just over £18 million and Mr Evans a sum of over £22 million, it was revealed that the pair had spent £2.7 million on legal fees during the course of their dispute related to the assets.

In his ruling, judge Mr Justice Moylan stated that both sides appeared to be “focused largely on forensic point scoring” throughout the case.

John Nicholson, a Partner and specialist in family law at Irwin Mitchell, said the case was a high-profile example of the dangers which can emerge when people have sufficient assets that allow them to fight on points of principle at a substantial expense.

He explained: “There is a school of thought from some that what people chose to spend their money on is their own affair. However, this attitude ignores two fundamental issues which are nothing to do with the problems of two wealthy people dealing with their unhappiness and anger in such a way.

“In our work, we always urge people to think about their children. Parents often forget in the heat of battle that by striking out against each other, they hurt others besides themselves. Children of any age are often affected by even the most amicable breakdown of a relationship between their parents. Watching those parents go through years of acrimonious court proceedings, and often being dragged in, even if only vicariously, is immensely damaging.

“Secondly a legal battle of this kind impacts on heavily overworked courts, which have to balance a case of this kind with others related to care proceedings, adoptions and other kinds of children issues – legal battles which some may argue have a greater importance.”

John added: “No one would dispute that there are frequently genuine issues of fact or law that can arise in cases whether a couple is rich or poor. No one should be deterred by cost from asking for the court’s help where the law is unclear, or where one party is simply not playing fair.

“However, some may argue whether measures should be put in place to ensure that costly and time-consuming battles are not fought in the courts purely in order to pursue some form of vendetta.

“Regardless of the circumstance of this individual case, we would always encourage separated couples – no matter how bad relations have got between them – to consider different approaches to agreeing the split of assets. This may include arbitration, mediation or dispute resolution, complete with advice from a legal expert.

“In most cases, we see those approaches as useful ways to ensure that suitable outcomes can be met for both sides – without the need of a drawn-out court battle.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Divorce and Family Law