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The cost of Young love

View profile for Casian Sala

Whenever high-profile media marriages hit the rocks there tends to be a certain amount of gleeful speculation as to the presence or otherwise of pre-nups, and which of the unhappy pair was most aggrieved. The rather snide adage that it is arguably lawyers who benefit most from marital break-ups is of course largely unfair: without expert legal advice either party could be left exposed to an unfair distribution of assets, and it has historically been particularly in the interests of a wronged wife to secure a solicitor the moment the locks have been changed.

Nonetheless, a judge has recently voiced ardent disapproval at what he called ‘truly eye-watering’ litigation costs incurred by Michelle Young following her divorce from businessman Scot Young.

Ms Young’s rather admirably careless assessment of her ex-husband’s fortune as amounting to ‘a few billion’ was matched by equally admirable care and diligence in pursuing her due share – accruing in the process a staggering £6.4m in litigation fees.

Mr Justice Moor, justifiably taken aback, said “It cannot be right that all the litigation funding is spent long before the final hearing, which is, on any view, the most important part of the entire litigation exercise.” The Judge went on to call for ‘rigorous’ control on the amount spent, including on the use of expert witnesses.

It is interesting to note Moor’s assertion that it is the final hearing which constitutes the ‘most important part’ of the litigation process. Perhaps Ms Young’s legal team could argue that, in fact, the long, arduous and detailed process of preparation for litigation is of equal importance – and certainly, on the evidence of this case, of far greater financial cost.

The case entailed 65 preliminary hearings, 24 witnesses and the use of several teams of forensic accountants examining assets spread across three continents - and produced 10,000 pages of court documents. Whether the £6.4m expenditure represented value for money is of course impossible to judge with any certainty – but the case serves to emphasise the crucial importance of litigation preparation, and the several thousand hours’ expert work undertaken by teams of litigation support experts before the court is reached.

It remains to be seen whether budgetary controls will be introduced for such cases, but in the meantime wise budgeting and early support from litigation professionals such as Legastat continue to be of paramount importance - particularly if litigants are to avoid legal bills amounting to the GDP of a small country.