One of the main reasons the middle class is abandoning family courts in droves is because of the bank-draining costs of litigation. While it may appear straight forward to bring a claim for parenting or child support, there are a myriad of legal skirmishes that accompany these claims, that are difficult to predict, and hence, make it impossible to estimate the amount of legal fees for any particular court case.
Typical preliminary court applications that may unpredictably drive up court costs include a challenge to a court’s jurisdiction to even hear and adjudicate a particular case, or a motion to remove a party’s lawyer based on an alleged conflict of interest, before a case gets started.
A wealthy Malaysian couple provide an excellent example of jurisdictional litigation. Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, the multi-millionaire majority shareholder of Welsh textile and fashion company, Laura Ashley, and owner of ten upscale hotels, married former beauty queen Pauline Chai in 1970, a union that produced five children.
The couple have multiple homes located in England, Canada, Australia and Kuala Lumpur. Shortly before the parties separated, they began living primarily in their United Kingdom home, worth a staggering $30,000,000, where they raise alpacas and llamas on a 1,000 acre country estate that has two man-made lakes.
Six months after separation Ms. Chai, age 68, filed a divorce petition in England. British law provides that a party may bring divorce proceedings in England if they have resided in the country for six months, a requirement satisfied by Ms. Chai.
It cannot be a coincidence that England is reputed to be the divorce capital of Europe and a venue that is highly sought after by women seeking a generous property division.
Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, age 74, resisted his wife’s British claims arguing that a court in Malaysia was the proper court to deal with their divorce as they were citizens of Malaysian, not Britain.
Their preliminary battle to determine which court has jurisdiction has already cost them approximately $2 million dollars, an amount one judge of the British court described as “eye-watering”. Mr. Justice Holman also questioned why the couple, who allegedly pay no tax in the United Kingdom, have “squeezed out” more important cases, while paying only a fraction of what it costs to staff and run a tax-payer funded court room.
At a recent ten-day hearing, Dr. Khoo Kay Penn argued that his wife was “forum-shopping” and her status in England was based on a visitor’s visa. However, Ms. Chai emerged the victor, after compiling a mountain of evidence including the fact that her collection of 1,000 pairs of shoes was housed in her English home and not in Malaysia or Australia.
Mr. Justice Bodey accepted that Ms. Chai intended to remain in the United Kingdom and would pay the required $1 million dollar fee to obtain permanent legal status in England. He doubted that Ms. Chai had a 1,000 pair of shoes, but on that point, I certainly believe her!
So on to the real dispute? Not so fast…Dr. Khoon Kay Penn will undoubtedly appeal the jurisdictional decision, and who knows how many other pre-trial battles will yet emerge.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang