Both parties in divorce case to pay legal bills

A couple who could not agree on who should bear the costs of their divorce hearing returned to court to settle the matter and were told to pay their own legal bills each.

Both claimed they had won the High Court hearing last year to decide on the division of their matrimonial assets and maintenance for the wife, and thus, the "loser" should pay.

But Justice Choo Han Teck ruled "there was no clear winner" in judgment grounds released last week, in which he also clarified costs are awarded at the court's discretion.

He stressed it was "wholly misleading" to think that costs should always follow the outcome of events, and that judges try to make decisions that would not make things more acrimonious than they already were.

The 47-year-old British man and the Thai woman, aged 37, married in April 2001 in Bangkok and have two young children.

They obtained an interim divorce judgment in 2011.

In the High Court hearing last year, Justice Choo ruled the wife should get some $2.025 million, or 30 per cent of the matrimonial assets, which included properties in Bangkok.

The husband was also ordered to pay her $8,000 in monthly maintenance for 18 months.

Both parties were told then to come to an agreement on costs but they could not reach one.

At a court hearing in April over the issue, the woman, represented by Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim and lawyer Dennis Chua, sought about $205,000 in costs and disbursements, which included the cost of two professional reports.

She claimed to be entitled to costs as the judgment was in her favour.

The man's lawyer, Ms Tan Yew Cheng, did not dispute the amount involved but countered that the judgment was in the husband's favour. Justice Choo found that the woman's claim was based on a "strained interpretation of 'favourable'."

Although she got 30 per cent of the assets, which she had asked for, this overlooked the fact that the size of the assets at $6.75 million found by the court was significantly lower than the $14.6 million she claimed was in the matrimonial kitty.

Similarly, she had asked for a longer period of maintenance than she got.

"Looking at the figures as a whole, it is clear that the verdict was numerically closer to the (husband's) pleaded case.

"However, that is not to say the (husband) won and the (wife) lost."

Justice Choo made clear that costs awarded was based on the case outcome and not on the trend of recent court decisions in which each side had to bear his own costs for the hearings on ancillary matters.

He stressed that the courts aimed to minimise "further acrimony", adding "an adverse cost order may aggravate the situation further, making one party out to be the 'loser'".

He ordered each party to bear his own costs and share the $49,416 bill for the professional reports.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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