High Court Rules in Favor of Monaco Jurisdiction in Contested Divorce Proceedings, Orders Wife to Pay £196,000 in Costs

Citation: [2024] EWHC 278 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case in focus, heard in the High Court of Justice Family Division, concerns a contested stay of divorce and financial remedy proceedings, with the determination of whether these proceedings should take place in England and Wales or Monaco. The ruling centers on jurisdictional disputes, costs assessment, and the conduct of the parties involved.

Key Facts

Mrs. Justice Arbuthnot presided over this case where the husband’s application for a stay, substantiating that Monaco is the appropriate jurisdiction for their divorce and financial remedy proceedings, was accepted. The wife contested, insisting on England and Wales. The court ruled in favor of the husband, establishing that the family had stronger ties to Monaco, and considering significant factors such as the location of the family home, the husband’s business interests, and precedence of proceedings in Monaco.

The subsequent controversy revolved around the issue of costs. The husband’s costs were claimed at £421,576.10, later revised to £331,448.50. Following submissions from both parties’ counsel, attention shifted to the principles for assessing these costs.

The legal principles in play revolve around two main areas: jurisdiction and costs.

Jurisdiction

Jurisdictional aspects emerged as crucial in determining whether the English and Welsh court or that of Monaco would be competent to handle the case. The principles of ‘forum non conveniens’ and real and substantial connections with the jurisdiction were explored here, ultimately favoring Monaco.

Costs

The costs assessment relies on various rules and guidelines. The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) specifically rule 28.2 which were closely considered, which generally align with parts of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) as applied by FPR 2010 Rule 28.12. This includes having regard to the conduct of the parties, and whether an issue was reasonably pursued.

Furthermore, the court brings into consideration the guideline hourly rates, commonly applied in civil proceedings, drawing from Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls’ ‘Guide to the Summary Assessment of Costs’. As the case revolved around financial remedy proceedings, the presumption of no order for costs in family cases (FPR 28.3) did not apply, thus opening the door for costs assessments and orders.

DHCJ Colton KC, in a preceding case H v GH[2023] EWFC 235, establishes an indirect but persuasive argument for considering the Civil Justice Council’s guideline hourly rates when assessing costs in family proceedings, despite the guidelines not being strictly binding within the Family Court.

Outcomes

Mrs. Justice Arbuthnot ordered a cost payable by the wife at 85% of the husband’s claim, reduced by a presumed 30% on standard assessment, totaling £196,000. In reconciling the conduct of the parties, she considered the husband’s delay in the application, failure to comply with directions, and pursuit of a fault-based divorce, which impacted the proceedings. The wife’s decision to continue with weaker arguments was also a factor, despite the evident financial disparity between the spouses. Significantly, the judge made an order for this sum to be paid at the conclusion of proceedings in Monaco, including any appeals, taking into account the wife’s financial situation.

Conclusion

This case exemplifies the complexity of jurisdictional disputes in divorce proceedings with international elements and highlights how the court navigates the assessment of costs in such cases. Not only does it shed light on the substantive application of rules governing jurisdiction and stays of proceedings, but it also serves as a landmark for how costs may be assessed in financial remedy cases according to the principles of predictability and proportionality. Mrs. Justice Arbuthnot’s judgment reflects a meticulous balance between the pursuit of justice, the conduct of parties, and practical considerations of affordability and fairness.

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