Pro Se Spouse Ordered to Pay Fees for Divorce Trial

, New York Law Journal

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A husband who represented himself in a divorce and "engaged in obstructionist conduct" that led to a 12-day trial—including several days of cross-examining his wife—has been ordered to pay her attorney fees at trial.

"This case highlights the difficulties that arise when one party uses their self-represented status as both a sword and a shield in an attempt to gain undue advantage and behaves in a manner that the court would never tolerate from an attorney," said Suffolk County Justice H. Patrick Leis (See Profile) in G.T. v. A.T., 31425/2011.

Geeta Joshi-Tope and Achyut Tope's divorce trial should have lasted no more than four days, the judge said. Instead, Tope took four days to cross-examine his wife, making her legal fees at trial balloon to $10,965.

After factoring in credit they owed to each other, Leis said Tope owed Joshi-Tope a total of $6,957 in all.

"Simple justice dictates that the defendant who chooses to function from a position of anger and resentment, not be allowed to purposely drive up the plaintiff's counsel fees and act in such an inappropriate manner, without being made responsible for all of the trial fees," Leis said.

He redacted the parties' names in his ruling, but the Law Journal was able to identify the parties from other sources.

Joshi-Tope, 50, filed for divorce in November 2011. She consults on engineering work, making $46,000 a year in gross income.

Her husband, Tope, a 53-year-old former engineer, voluntarily left employment in 2005, when he was earning about $90,000, the judge said. He has not held a job since, instead choosing to manage real estate properties.

According to the judge, Tope believed by constantly refinancing existing properties to buy more properties, he would make the couple rich. Instead, the refinancing put the couple in debt. Joshi-Tope said her husband's continual refusal to find a job was a significant factor in the deterioration of their marriage.

Before trial, the parties settled several issues, such as child custody and the split of real estate properties.

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