A former barrister fears she will become homeless after the court ruled she must pay legal costs for her dead ex-husband's estate after her claim for a share of his multi-million fortune was denied.
A former barrister fears she will become homeless after the court ruled she must pay legal costs for her dead ex-husband's estate after her claim for a share of his multi-million fortune was denied.

Former barrister fears she will be homeless

The ex-wife of a late District Court judge, who lost her bid for a share of his multi-million dollar estate, now has to pay the estate's legal costs, at the highest level.

Former barrister Therese Ryan, who was divorced from Brian Harrison 27 years ago, claimed she risked becoming homeless if costs were awarded against her.

Ms Ryan's submissions on costs alleged she was the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by Harrison, with whom she was married for five years.

On September 3, Justice Glenn Martin found Ms Ryan was not a "spouse" entitled to make a claim and he dismissed her application for proper maintenance and support.

Justice Martin said at the time of Judge Harrison's death, there was no court order still operating that he was to pay Ms Ryan maintenance.

Brian Harrison and Therese Ryan on their wedding day. Picture: supplied
Brian Harrison and Therese Ryan on their wedding day. Picture: supplied

The application by Ms Ryan, now on a disability support pension, was opposed by Judge Harrison's widow, Rampai Harrison, the executor of the estate.

Harrison, a former Cairns District Court Judge, who died in October, last year, aged 69, left the bulk of his estate to his third wife, Rampai, whom he married in 2018.

Solicitor David Fryatt, for Ms Ryan, asked for all costs of the application proceedings to be borne by the estate.

Submissions for Ms Ryan said her family provision application was "not frivolous, vexatious or brought with no reasonable prospect of success".

However, Justice Martin said Ms Ryan's application never had a prospect of success and she had no standing to bring the application against the estate.

Ms Ryan claimed in submissions that "the deceased had a strong moral obligation" to her and costs should be borne from the estate.

Ms Ryan suffered from depression and anxiety, due to circumstances related to the alleged domestic violence, the submissions said.

Former barrister Therese Ryan. Picture: supplied
Former barrister Therese Ryan. Picture: supplied

It was claimed Ms Ryan's and Harrison's daughter, a crown prosecutor, had resigned her position as co-executor and co-trustee of Harrison's will, before Ryan filed her application.

Mrs Harrison, as executor, had arguably acted in a "relentless, aggressive and vindictive manner" against the "vulnerable applicant", in seeking costs against a former spouse who was a victim of "prolonged domestic violence", the submission said.

Rebecca Treston, QC, for the estate, said that claim was wholly unsubstantiated and should be rejected.

Justice Martin said Ms Ryan had been put on notice at an early stage that if she brought a claim, the estate would seek to have it struck out and seek costs on an indemnity basis.

Justice Martin said he rested his decision on the basis of costs being awarded to compensate a successful party and not punish an unsuccessful party.

Therese Ryan and Brian Harrison, who later became a District Court Judge. Picture: supplied
Therese Ryan and Brian Harrison, who later became a District Court Judge. Picture: supplied

To order costs out of the estate would not compensate the successful party, but would simply reduce the value of the estate, he said.

The judge ordered Ms Ryan pay the estate's costs of the proceedings on the higher indemnity basis, rather than pay standard costs.

Ms Ryan said she was very disappointed as she was on a disability support pension, unable to work since 2018 and was "hardly making ends meet".

She said she was considering her legal options.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.    

Originally published as Former barrister fears she will be homeless


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