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Costly divorce court battles and how to avoid them

When people think of divorce, it is often the lengthy, expensive court battles played out in the press that are the first things that come to mind.

Whilst it’s true that getting a divorce isn’t something that happens overnight and solicitor fees can add up, it is often the case that it’s the couple who cannot come to an agreement and end up in court, who really see the costs pile up. 

One divorce battle recently reported in the press, was that of husband and wife, Michael and Margie Hanley.

The couple, who had been married for 33 years, could not agree on what to do with their holiday home in Cornamona, Ireland, now that they had decided to get a divorce. Mrs Hanley argued that Cornamona was her ancestral home and that Mr. Hanley was just punishing her by wanting to keep it. 

Mr. Hanley argued that he wanted to live in the house in Cornamona and that he should have it, not Mrs Hanley. 

After being unable to reach an agreement between themselves about their Cornamona house, the couple went to court. The house was estimated to be worth around £500,000. Legal fees were reportedly in excess of £800,000, in what was described as a “Titanic battle”.

The value of the house seems not to warrant the amount spent in fees. This makes this case particularly interesting, especially as the couple had between €10 million and €14 million to split between themselves in assets and cash. 

In the end, the couple reached a deal, with Mrs Hanley eventually getting the disputed property.

This case is a good example of why couples should try to reach a settlement about how to split their assets on divorce without going to court. Court costs can spiral and can sometimes turn out to be more than the original asset under dispute is actually worth. 

There are many different ‘tools’ that couples can use to work towards reaching an agreement outside of court and keep costs down. 

Collaborative law, where ‘four way meetings’ take place between you, your spouse and your respective solicitors, is becoming a popular option for divorcing couples. Alternatively, mediation, a flexible process with an impartial individual aiding your discussions, can be useful for some. If you feel unable to talk to your spouse directly, your solicitor can also negotiate on your behalf. 

By obtaining legal advice from a solicitor as early on as possible in the divorce process, you can gain a better understanding of what your settlement could look like. This can not only help to put your mind at rest but can also inform you of how best to start negotiations. 

If you are not yet married, a pre-nuptial agreement, which sets out what you and your spouse would get should you divorce in the future, could also be considered. Would it have made a difference for Mr. and Mrs Hanley? It is difficult to say a definitive yes or no. Although pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding, a judge can take them into consideration as long as various criteria are met.

One thing is for sure: going to court can be very costly. However, for some it is unavoidable. Trying to reach an agreement outside of court should be encouraged wherever possible.

Our expert family law solicitors are used to appearing in family courts up and down the country – but we understand you are not. Our team will guide you through the process and make sure that you fully understand the possible outcomes and implications at each stage.

For more information on this subject please visit our Legal Library.

Contact us to see how we can help with your divorce 

For more information call our team on 0845 862 5001 or email

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07th June 2017

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