Husband with Great Wealth to be Relieved of Obligation to Pay Wife's Legal Fees

In an unusual case, a judge to whom the case was assigned granted the husband's motion to be relieved from continuing to pay the wife's legal fees which appeared to be to date about $500,000. Accordingly, the judge ruled that a $2,000,000 marital asset account should be released to the parties 50/50, each receiving $1,000,000 for the payment of their ongoing legal fee obligations, and the husband no longer should pay for the wife's fees out of his own pocket. This award was made subject to allocation, so at the conclusion of the case the judge could review all testimony, the financial records and other exhibits, to determine who the monied spouse was and make a more informed decision. As such, it might turn out the wife might still receive a final award for all of her fees or be responsible for her own. Time will tell.

The judge considered that the wife had a $75,000 a month temporarymaintenance award and had other pre marital assets, and without contributing monies for the payment of her fees had "no skin" in the game, and therefore no incentive to curtail the litigation.

The fact that the husband was the head of a large hedge fund and made millions of dollars annually, and had a marital estate of at least $20,000,000, surely influenced his decision.

See the decision of Justice Matthew F. Cooper, in Sykes v. Sykes, reported in the New York Law Journal on October 21, 2013.

This is one of the first cases to attempt to define what the phrase "monied spouse" really meant in a given case, since there is a presumption in the law that legal fees should be awarded to the "less monied spouse" to level the playing field, in order that a party does not obtain an unfair advantage in obtaining superior counsel or other benefits in the litigation process.

What is to be learned form this decision? It seems that the courts may, in the final analysis, do what they deem to be fair under all of the circumstance, and relieve a spouse from financial obligation to the other, at least on a temporary basis, subject to review and possible change when the case has been tried and ended. When you read the decision note that the court also commented that it was necessary to do so in this case in order to consider the merits of the husband and wife's argument, and whether it was necessary to incur legal fees to present such position. Additionally, he ruled that he would also determine the reasonableness of legal fees, and seemed to imply if they were excessive he would so rule.

It is to be remembered that each case is decided on a case-to-case basis, and there is no insurance that it will be followed by other jurists. No two cases have the precise same facts, and the slightest variance certainly will allow a judge to distinguish the Sykes case from the one they have before them.