Is Court always the best route?

On 18 June 2015 at the Family Court in Bristol, (days after he hit the headlines as the Judge who described Rebecca Minnock as utterly irresponsible in going on the run with her son Ethan) -  Judge Wildblood QC - dealt with the Appeal of a Financial Remedy Order in the case of JM v. MM [2015] EWFCB74.

This case vividly highlights the problems that can arise when focus on the end game is lost.  The facts are relatively straight forward.  Two Parties of the same age (58), married for 13 years, no children, a house, a small family company with husband owning 51% of the shares and the wife owning 49%, a few investments, modest pension provision and some disputed debts. 

Not including the pensions at best they had assets worth just under £300,000 and if the Husband's arguments on the debts were accepted the assets totalled £176,156.  By the time they reached the Appeal hearing their combined costs totalled £127,538.

What was the basis of the successful Appeal?

The District Judge had misunderstood / misinterpreted the Business valuation evidence and had ignored tax issues. He had not correctly assessed how the Husband would raise the lump sum he was ordered to pay.  The District Judge had also failed to document his analysis of the Husband's income at the time and now some six months after the Final Hearing, his future income predictions had proved incorrect.

Should this have happened?

No - but sometimes it does.

Judge Wildblood had no option but to grant the Appeal and regrettably there would have to be a further full rehearing of all the issues.   Based on the level of their previous costs - this could mean a further £30,000 costs expenditure for both Parties.

Not only will the financial cost and depletion of assets at this stage in their lives be irrecoverable for these two people but there is also the emotional cost to consider.  The case report does not set out timescales but the Parties' lives will have been on hold for a minimum of 2 years and now the limbo is set to continue with both of them knowing that there is less (if anything) to divide now compared with what there was at the start.

Judge Wildblood QC - even at this late stage - urged the Parties to attend mediation or to arbitrate their differences.  Will they take his pleas on board, or has it all gone too far - are the stakes for both of them just too high?   

Even if they cannot mediate between themselves, it is to be hoped that they will accept Judge Wildblood's advice to arbitrate.  If only this could have happened at the beginning rather than at the bitter end.

For more information on Family Mediation and Family Arbitration please contact Sheridan Ball, Head of the Family Team on 01482 337361 or at sheridan.ball@rollits.com

Posted on: 06/07/2015

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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