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Holman J warns divorcing couple against ‘financial suicide’

One quarter of couple’s wealth committed to litigation

In Sekhi v Ray [2013] EWHC 2290 (Fam) mr Justice Holman has urged a couple embroiled in a financial remedy dispute against committing financial suicide.

The husband and wife met through an online dating agency when each was in their mid-thirties. The husband was, as he still is, a partner in a world-class American law firm. The wife was, and is, a paediatric anaesthetist, already a Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, working at Great Ormond Street Hospital. In Singapore they became engaged in June and married in December 2009. Their son was born in December 2010. By August 2011 there were intense and aggressive arguments between them and within two years divorce became inevitable. When the wife removed their son, wrongfully, to England in September 2012 they finally completely separated.

Since then they have each spent about £430,000 on worldwide legal costs in England, Singapore and India (a significant part of those costs relating to litigation about their son).

Holman J said:

"At a hearing on 15 May 2013 I begged these parties to resolve their differences, and I referred in paragraph 12 of my short judgment .... to financial suicide. At paragraph 4 of my formal order that day .... I urged and beseeched the parties to travel to London and attend the present hearing 'so that … they can be helped to settle all or as much as possible of the financial issues in this case'."

Noting a costs 'overshoot' of no less than a quarter of a million pounds in the space of just two months, the judge continued:

"These parties are successful and prosperous, but they are not multi-millionaires. Their total net wealth is around £4 million. That they have already committed nearly one-quarter of that wealth to highly charged litigation, and an atmosphere of intense emotion day after day in the courtroom, merely serves to underline the tragedy."

The current proceedings related to jurisdiction. On 20 August 2012 the wife, although living at that time in Singapore, issued a petition for divorce in  London. It was common ground that on that date both parties were, and recently had been, habitually resident in Singapore. But the wife alleged that both, or alternatively at least one, of them was domiciled in England and Wales on that date. The husband denied that either of them was domiciled in England and Wales on 20 August 2012. Holman J held that each party was, as the petition for divorce alleges, domiciled in England and Wales on that date and the court had jurisdiction to entertain the petition. Consequently it was now open for the wife's petition to proceed to a decree nisi.

The judgment can be read here.