A commentary around the Biggs Case

There has been a lot of media interest in the relationship property litigation of Stephen and Sophie Biggs who have separated. The litigation involved with the separation has been protracted and expensive and that is even before there has been a substantive hearing in the High Court! The latest round concluded with a judgment from the Court of Appeal regarding Sophie Biggs’ legal and accounting costs. Sophie Biggs does not have the same financial resources that her separated husband has so in lieu of the relationship assets been split up in the High Court hearing still to be heard she has asked for interim distributions from her husband to fund her legal costs. An initial distribution of $400,000 has been paid and the Court of Appeal allowed a further distribution of $700,000 to her.

There is still a lot to happen with this case as the substantive hearing is still to be heard and we await the media reports when it happens. Some comments:

  1. As can be seen, litigation is hugely expensive with Mrs Biggs’ legal and accounting costs to date totalling over $1 million. This is likely to be for both legal representation and accounting costs which will relate to the litigation. Litigation does have its place but it is clear the cost of it puts access to justice beyond most people in New Zealand.
  2. Just as important as the financial cost is the cost of time that parties give up in disputes like this. This dispute has been in the New Zealand courts since 2018 and does not appear to have a resolution any time soon. Not only is the substantive hearing still to happen there will be a long wait for the judgment.
  3. It isn’t clear whether any mediation or arbitration was entered into by both parties in good faith here, but if both parties had of done this an agreement would have been reached by now saving significant cost and time.
  4. Mr and Mrs Biggs have one child together who will be caught in the middle of this dispute. Hopefully, this protracted dispute has not affected them adversely, but any party in a relationship dispute will need to work very hard to ensure children are sheltered from the worst of the dispute.

The end of a relationship is difficult for a myriad of reasons which can cause disagreement and tension between the separated parties. However, if both parties are willing to negotiate in good faith then the savings in time and money can be significant.

Prepared by Marcus Diprose

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