As is often the case in divorce proceedings that make national news, two exceedingly wealthy individuals, Sir Andrew Cook and Baroness Angelika Hirsch-Stronstorff, have recently ‘resolved’ their financial proceedings after what can only assumed to be “one hell of a bun fight”.

Sir Andrew, the chairman of William Cook, and Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff, an interior designer, were found to be worth £25 million and £4 million respectively. Whether Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff’s father owned huge tracts of land was not disclosed. The parties were married for just three years, in what the Judge found to be a “disaster of a marriage”. One can only imagine.

As any solicitor specialising in divorce would tell you, the Courts abhor dealing with disputes as to ownership of the contents of a marital home and chattels.  Although the parties were able to reach an out-of-court settlement they were unable to agree on who should received the curtains in their Soho home. Under the agreement, Sir Andrew was to keep the house and so argued that the curtains were a fixture. Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff was to receive the contents of the home and thus argued that the curtains should go to her. Cue the music…

While the point of dispute seems farcical to the point of being ridiculous, it is worth remembering that the cost of installing new curtains, for what we can assume to be a very large Soho townhouse, could easily be in the tens of thousands, if not more. If you factor in that Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff is an interior designer and that the curtains in question are likely to be of the very expensive, fashionable sort, then it is easy to imagine the costs rocketing up.

Despite the costs of the curtains, the need to take this dispute to the family division of the high court and rack up reported legal fees of over £1 million is, quite plainly, ridiculous. I always advise my clients to consider very carefully indeed whether it is worth ligating on chattels or the contents of a home. Ultimately, if the parties cannot agree, then the Court has been known to Order that the parties attend the family home, with their solicitors, and pick out the items that they want to keep on an alternating basis, one by one. I cannot think that this is ever a satisfactory process.

Ultimately, the parties did reach a compromise, guided by the Judge, that Sir Andrew was to retain the curtains, as he was keeping the family home but, if the family home was sold in 5 years, then he was to share to proceeds with Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff. A good solution but one that could have been reached without the Court’s involvement. This case will perhaps serve as a reminder to solicitors and their clients alike of the need to keep disputes proportional and to seek out compromise.

I can only imagine that after the end of these proceedings and after a legal bill of over £1 million, only Sir Andrew’s lawyers wanted to burst into song…

Clive Hogan – rhw solicitors llp 

Call rhw divorce solicitors in Guildford on 01483 540 556 or email clive.hogan@rhw.co.uk