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How expensive can a legal divorce proceeding really be?

How expensive can a legal divorce proceeding really be?

When Marian Levitt was billed one million dollars in legal costs for her legal divorce proceedings, she appealed this bill all the way up to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

On August 13, 2008, the appellate court concluded that the bill was ‘fair’ and ordered her to pay it.

By way of background, Marian married Bernard in 1958 and were married for 42 years. The divorce proceedings involved the division of approximately $12 million in assets and shares of family companies and assets.

How the divorce proceedings panned out

Marian had terminated her first lawyer and then retained Irwin Nathanson from the law firm of Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson in late November 2001. Mr. Nathanson agreed to take on Marian’s case. He did not discuss the basis on which he would be charging for his services, but said that he intended to bill a ‘fair fee’. The trial lasted 29 days and then a two day appeal was heard.

The total amount that Mr. Nathanson billed for his fees was $833,400 and disbursements and taxes were $185,061.

The court registrar heard Marian’s review of the bill. The registrar even heard expert evidence on the ‘reasonableness’ of the accounts by Lawrence Kahn, a senior family law lawyer. Mr. Kahn said that the file was complicated and the matter was highly contested. He noted that there was a significant amount of work that had to be done at the outset of the matter, and in a relatively short period of time, in order to be properly prepared for trial.

The review hearing itself lasted 10½ days.

The court registrar found that the legal fees charged to Marian were very high, but that she chose to engage top counsel for a ‘carriage trade lawsuit’ and that the fees charged must be measured with that in mind.

In the result, the court registrar certified the lawyer’s fees, charges and disbursements in the total amount of $1,018,461.48.

Both of Marian’s appeals were dismissed, with costs payable by her.

Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson v. Levitt [2008] B.C.J. No. 1529 (August 13, 2008).

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