University of Denver

New York Judge Bucks Tradition in Assigning of Divorce Attorney Fees

Director of Special Projects

Drawing attention to the costs of high-end divorce, Justice Matthew Cooper of the New York Supreme Court (the state's highest trial court) recently refused to go along with longstanding legal precedent that assigns responsibility for attorneys' fees in divorce cases to the party with the most assets. Justice Cooper made his ruling in the three-year divorce case of hedge fund manager George Sykes, which has accumulated approximately $1 million in legal fees to-date. The practice of ordering the spouse with the most assets to pay legal fees is intended to ensure an even playing field between spouses with unbalanced resources, but in the Sykes cases, Justice Cooper found this practice to be having the opposite effect. From Justice Cooper's perspective, “given that the husband is the party who now has the 'heavier wallet,' it is the wife who has the 'distinct advantage' because of her unfettered access to that wallet.”