In the midst of litigation, it can sometimes be difficult for parties to retain a focus on the central strategy and objectives, as satellite issues are brought up distracting time, money and resources from the primary, central themes and points in dispute. In an effort to minimise the potential for this occurring, the court encourage parties to conduct the litigation openly, candidly and with proportionality. The court’s approach is summarised as “the overriding objective” and is detailed at the outset of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, as follows:
“…dealing with a case justly includes, so far as is practicable
(a) ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously and fairly;
(b) dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues;
(c) ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing;
(d) saving expense; and
(e) allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases.”
This principle of proportionality was considered in the recent case of Christoforou v Christoforou before Mr Justice Moylan, concerning the settlement of the family finances following separation. The parties had substantive funds, with a total asset pot estimated in the region of £50 million. Nevertheless, a significant amount of the court’s time was taken up with concerns that the husband had in relation to the distribution of a joint bank account, for which the husband argued he was due an additional €17,622.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Moylan acknowledged that it was not an insignificant sum of money and “…I appreciate that a number of small sums can add up to a significant amount. I also recognise that, if the court too readily ignores what might be tactical accretion or expenditure of small amounts, parties might be encouraged to engage in such behaviour. However, to descend to this level in this case having regard to the available resources is, frankly, absurdly disproportionate.”
Proportionality is a central tenet of litigation, enabling parties to manage the smooth running of their case and managing costs effectively. Proportionality, together with the other factors forming the overriding objective, pervade family law litigation and should be considered at every turn in order to deal with litigation efficiently.
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