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Divorce - Financial Proceedings 'Fast Heading for Ritz Hotel Status'

Justice that can be accessed only by the super-rich is not justice at all. A High Court judge made that point in noting that financial remedy proceedings in divorce cases are fast heading for Ritz Hotel status – affordable only by the well-heeled few.

The case concerned a couple whose 12-year marriage was characterised by ever increasing prosperity and an ever more affluent lifestyle. A construction company of which the husband was a 50 per cent shareholder had been phenomenally successful and the couple's total assets were worth £35,456,884.

Taking into account that the company had been founded by the husband prior to the marriage, the judge ruled that the wife should receive £14,237,623, made up of a transfer to her of the former matrimonial home, another property and a lump sum of over £12 million. Her award represented half of the wealth built up during the course of the marriage and 40.2 per cent of the total assets.

The judge noted that the case involved no complex computational exercise and was straightforward when compared to many high-value divorce cases. The former couple had agreed that the equal sharing principle should apply to the case. However, they had between them run up legal costs in the extraordinary amount of £1,670,380, roughly 5 per cent of their entire fortune.

Emphasising the fundamental principle that those who invoke the rule of law should have true access to justice, the judge noted that there is no such access if justice is only open to all in the same way as the Ritz Hotel. The expense of financial remedy litigation was fast making it the preserve of the very rich. He urged either the Lord Chancellor or the Family Procedure Rule Committee to address the situation in the public interest.

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