If you're a lawyer and you've not read Bleak House, then your legal education is incomplete. Not for the first time it has been quoted in a judgment, on this occasion by the ubiquitous Mr Justice Munby, who was saddened and appalled by what he called "ancillary relief litigation conducted at ruinous expense to the parties". The case was KSO v MJO & Ors  EWHC 3031 (Fam). I'm not going to go into the gory details of the litigation, but suffice to say it involved not just the husband and the wife but also the father-in-law and the mother-in-law, who between them made numerous applications, cross applications and even an appeal - at one earlier hearing the District Judge had been "overwhelmed with applications and issues". As a result of all of this litigation, Mr Justice Munby calculated that the matrimonial 'pot' had been reduced to "a wretched 28.22%" by the costs incurred.
As Mr Justice Munby said, the end result was unsurprising: "The litigation simply collapsed under the unsustainable burden of paying costs which had long since become wholly disproportionate to anything at stake and which, by the time the parties arrived at the FDR, had swallowed up a grotesquely large proportion of the never very substantial assets. On 26 November 2008 I received the news that the husband had earlier that day been declared bankrupt on his own petition."
Before quoting from Bleak House in an appendix to the judgment, Mr Justice Munby gave the following depressing summary:
"The picture is deeply dispiriting. And it is not as if it is only the adults who suffer from the consequences of such folly. The luckless children do as well. The present case is a sobering, and for me deeply saddening, example. If, instead of spending – squandering – over £430,000 in costs, the wife and the husband had been able to resolve their differences at a more modest and, dare I say it, more seemly level of costs, there might very well have been enough left in the matrimonial 'pot' to house the wife and children and to enable the children to remain at their school, whilst still leaving something more than a mere consolation prize over for the husband. As it is, it is hard to see much being left from the wreck, not least after the trustee in bankruptcy has had his costs, expenses and remuneration. It is difficult not to be reminded at this point of Jarndyce v Jarndyce (see the Appendix). And the wife and the husband – and for this purpose I refer to them as the mother and the father, for that is what they are – are faced now with the wretched and thankless task of trying to explain to their daughters how it has all come to this."