Outrageous Costs in Family Law Cases

Angela Princewill

January 25, 2022

It is common knowledge that costs in family law cases can be enormous especially in highly contested family law disputes. The case of W.S. and P.I.A., 2022 ONSC 55 is an example of how outrageous costs can get. In this case, the parties racked up a total of $1.7 million dollars in legal fees and disbursement! Way more than the parties’ personal savings and the equity in their home.

What was the issue? Largely PARENTING. The parties were able to resolve child support, spousal support and equalization on the first day of trial by way of consent.

The Applicant Father was awarded costs in the amount of $677,610. Meaning, the Respondent Mother must pay the Applicant Father, $677,610 for his legal fees and disbursements. Note that this was not the full cost incurred by the Applicant Father. Here’s a breakdown of the bill of costs submitted by his legal team:

Fees of the Proceeding up to Trial         $318,940
Contempt Motion Fees         $  74,370
Trial Fees         $416,690
Disbursements         $  19,655
Total Costs         $829,655
Plus HST         $107,855
          $937,510

 

The breakdown above does not even include $7,000 in costs previously granted to the Applicant Father or costs removed by the judge as duplicative. It also does not include costs paid to his previous two lawyers or to his criminal lawyer. The cost of the parenting assessment is also not included. There were also some cost savings, given the Trial was held virtually (no fees for lawyer travel time or photocopying costs).

The judge was of the view that the Respondent took a “win at all costs” approach to the litigation, wanting to completely expunge the Applicant Father from the family. Ultimately, the Applicant Father was more successful and was entitled to his costs. As Justice McGee puts it: “Family law litigants are responsible not only for their litigation positions, but also for the financial consequences to both parties of funding those positions. A former spouse who engages in “win at all costs” litigation chooses to be as answerable for the resulting litigation fees to the other side as for one’s own fees.”

I did not represent either party in this case and so do not know for a fact what happened here, but it makes one wonder. Specifically, it reminded me of a podcast I had done a while ago with my Associate Family Lawyer, Sherine Abdi which was titled – 17 ways clients waste money on legal fees.

 

Negotiation, compromise, and settlement are the only means by which this kind of outrageous costs could have been avoided. An all or nothing/winner take all approach is a recipe for serious financial consequences. If the parties spent so much on legal fees, one also has to wonder the emotional and mental “cost” to the children. Unfortunately, the emotional and mental toll to the children are not costs that can be quantified. Was it worth it? It’s hard to see how the answer to this can possibly be yes. Even for the successful party. One can only hope the children are doing ok after all.