The Family Court has been highly critical of the “woeful conduct” of a solicitor in her own divorce dispute, describing her evidence as “elusive and evasive”.
In ordering costs against her, District Judge Graham Keating in Croydon said the unnamed solicitor, known only as ‘R’, only disclosed the existence of a bank account on the day before the financial remedy hearing.
The parties married in 2004, separated in 2015 and divorced in 2019. They have three children. The judge said the parties have “bitterly contested a range of issues” since the separation.
R – who acted as a litigant in person with a direct access barrister – “had a marked tendency to expect that people would simply accept her account and was frustrated when asked why documents to prove what she was saying were not available”, the judge said.
“She was, for a solicitor markedly unclear about the status and meaning of her position as a partner in J solicitors, which is not an incorporated body. It was only when I asked her directly that she confirmed that she was a partner in the firm, a fact which is not disclosed in her Form E.
“She told me that she had simultaneously been employed on a full-time basis by one firm of solicitors and a full time consultant with another firm, whilst still being a partner in J solicitors and also a director of H Ltd, which she has set up.
“She seemed genuinely shaken when I asked her whether the firms involved all knew about those arrangements, and her response did not leave me confident that she had been as candid about that as she may have been.”
DJ Keating said the solicitor “acknowledged not reading court orders properly or at all and accepted that she had signed conveyancing forms [when] she had been unclear as to her status when she did so”.
He described her evidence about her income as “elusive and evasive”, and said he received “no satisfactory explanation” for the failure to disclose the bank account in proper time.
“A failure to disclose can raise suspicion that resources are being hidden… Mistrust makes it very much harder for a party to negotiate. To the extent that R has found these proceedings stressful, or dislikes A’s approach, she must take a good deal of the responsibility for that.”
DJ Keating said R’s conduct in the litigation in the lead up to the FDR was “woeful” and the failure to disclose the bank account on its own justified an award of costs against her.
“But it is clear from the order that there were really significant gaps in R’s disclosure which meant that A was deprived the opportunity to negotiate.
“R may reflect that she has, in the end, secured most of what she sought from these proceedings. She has managed that despite her litigation conduct.
“Had she been transparent and honest about her resources, it would have enabled the parties to negotiate. Her conduct deprived A of the chance to do that at FDR and R should pay the costs A incurred as a result.”
Further, the solicitor “persistently” failed to comply with court orders and made no open offer to settle the proceedings until the day before trial, and then withdrew even it before the trial began.
This too was a “serious factor” weighing in favour of making her pay costs.