An ‘extremely tragic’ £50 million divorce case in which a family is ‘tearing itself apart’ has evoked ‘nothing but despair’ from a High Court judge, who lamented the missed opportunities to compromise and the parties’ expenditure of £700,000 on litigation that was still at a preliminary stage.
The marriage between an engineering and property tycoon and his wife had lasted more than 40 years before she petitioned for divorce. She had a 5 per cent shareholding in the overall enterprise and the focus of the dispute was her claim that he had made dispositions that unfairly favoured their son over her and their three daughters.
A preliminary issue in the case was whether the ex-couple’s business assets were held in trust for their son and the proceedings were complicated by the husband’s physical and mental ill-health. He had been compulsorily detained for a time before returning to live alone at the matrimonial home. The wife was living with one of the daughters.
The wife’s lawyers had argued that the Official Solicitor, rather than a lawyer from the same firm that is representing their son, should be appointed to act as her husband’s litigation friend. The Court described her concerns as ‘understandable’ but declined to deal with her application, saying that the issue had been ‘raised far too late’.
Noting that doubts remained as to whether the husband currently had legal capacity to make important decisions for himself, the Court directed that his condition be further assessed by a psychiatrist.
Describing the case as an ‘awful conflict’ involving a mother, a father and their son, Mr Justice Holman said that it was a tragedy that the parties had failed to resolve their differences before resorting to litigation. He added: “I have to say, as I leave this very long day, that I do so with a feeling of the utmost despair that this family could have spent three quarters of a million pounds just to get to this stage.
“They are likely to spend some hundreds of thousands of pounds in preparation for, and at the hearing of, the preliminary issue, and even that is only the preliminary issue. This family appears to be tearing itself apart and it fills the sympathetic but detached observer such as myself with nothing but despair.”