In the first order of its kind an order has been made in high profile case where the Judge has told the husband that he must make his wife an offer for financial settlement.
The case involving the Chairman of retailers Laura Ashley, Dr Khoo Kay Peng, and his 43 year wife, Pauline Chai has already seen legal fees in excess of £6 million. The Judge has given a 21 day time frame for the parties to lay their cards on the table and make open proposals for settlement.
The legal fees in this case are said to be some of the highest costs to ever come before a court in this country. The legal proceedings have been protracted by hearings in Malaysia where Dr Khoo Kay Peng was fighting for the divorce and financial settlement to be dealt with. Chai on the other hand wanted the courts in London to deal with the divorce and financial settlement. Dr Khoo has accused his wife of “forum shopping” by choosing an English court to decide her financial settlement. Forum shopping is the term used to describe choosing the jurisdiction to carry out a divorce and financial settlement to try to ensure the better financial result.
Chai claims her husband to be worth more than £440 million and to earn £5.4 million per year, whereas Dr Khoo claims to only be worth £66 million. Establishing the true extent of Dr Khoo’s wealth will take time and will be extremely costly for both parties. The parties are also in dispute over the extent to which Dr Khoo’s assets were built up during the marriage.
The judge in this case ordered open offers of settlement to be made by both parties. He said:
“I am striving to exercise some control over this titanic case. Otherwise the case will inevitably proceed on its expensive way to the detriment of the parties and the court’s resources.”
“The actual resolution of the finances of this couple, who have more money between them than they could spend in their lifetimes, has unfortunately taken a second seat. The legal costs bill is going on for £6m at a stage where the case has barely reached the first fence.”
Whilst forcing an open offer is a strong message from a court, the question is what will the court do if Dr Khoo or his wife fails to make the open offers ordered of them? Secondly, will this order mean that Judges will become more likely to make such orders in other courts for cases with assets of a lesser value?
The answer to both of these questions remains to be seen but it is important for parties going through a separation to consider the following:
- Is there an international element to your finances or have you/are you or is your partner living abroad. If so, it is important to take legal advice from a specialist in international family law.
- Whether your assets are high or low it is important to consider and review your legal costs and to ensure that you keep in mind how proportionate your costs are to the overall assets of the marriage.
- Looking at contributions to a marriage can be relevant to some finance cases, but often this can involve finding lots of historical evidence to support a claim. Sometimes this is significant and imperative to a case but it can also be an exercise that can lead to high legal fees with little overall impact on the outcome of a case. It is important that any contributions made prior to or during a marriage are discussed with your solicitor and the right amount of weight attached to these contributions where necessary.
Marissa Prince is a solicitor in the family team, which has been recognised by two independent guides to the law, Legal 500 and Chambers, as among the best in the region. Contact Marissa on 01392 210700 or email email@example.com.