Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Court delays leave $1m woman on benefit

Terminally ill divorcee faces losing her home because of court delays.

Elaine de la Rossi suffers from incurable non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Elaine de la Rossi suffers from incurable non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

A terminally-ill divorcee faces being evicted from her home despite being owed nearly $1 million, after her case was put off for three months while a judge is on holiday.

Elaine de la Rossi separated from ex-husband Trevor Pilkington in 2010 after 35 years of marriage and was awarded half of their $2m estate, comprising the Mission Bay marital home and her ex-husband's superannuation.

But de la Rossi, who suffers from incurable non-Hodgkin lymphoma, said she had been battling for four years for her 50 per cent share. She was unable to attend a crucial hearing late last year while she was in critical condition in hospital with a blood clot on her lungs.

The hearing went ahead in her absence, and de la Rossi claims she was awarded only a fraction of the superannuation payout due to her.

A clarification of Judge David Burns' ruling has been sought and a hearing was to be held on Thursday at the Auckland District Court.

However, the judge has taken six weeks leave and the hearing has been delayed until September.

Judge Ian McHardy, whom the matter was referred to, told the Herald on Sunday the case had been "lengthy, dealing with complex issues that have been disputed by the parties".

"The matter has been rescheduled for the judge to hear it at his earliest next opportunity."

De la Rossi, whose settlement is tied up in trusts and legal squabbling, said she faced being kicked out of her rented St Heliers unit and struggling to afford medicine that could extend her life.

"I have been given a death sentence," she said, adding the stress of court battle had compounded her health problems.

"I have an estate of $1m-plus and am living on a taxpayer benefit."

Her lawyer Stuart Cummings said: "This is an extraordinary and very unfortunate situation for Ms de la Rossi which could and should have been avoided."

Pilkington, the general manager of the Automobile Association, sent the Herald on Sunday a detailed account of the four-year court battle explaining why he had rejected his ex-wife's allegations.

Through his lawyer, Jane Hunter, he said de la Rossi had reneged on two settlements, failed to prosecute her claim, leaving the courts and other parties waiting and had been through 10 lawyers, causing much of the delay.

He had supported her by paying for medical insurance for 22 months after their separation and she had continued to live in the family home until last November.

Auckland University human rights law expert Kris Gledhill said he couldn't comment on specific cases but "justice delayed is justice denied" and that could be seen as a breach of human rights.

"The overriding objective of [Family Court rules] ... is to make it possible for proceedings in Family Courts to be dealt with as fairly, inexpensively, simply, and speedily as is consistent with justice."

- Herald on Sunday

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