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Wife’s equitable outcome

When a woman seeking divorce signed an agreement without legal advice, the Miles & Partners team stepped in to challenge the agreement and achieve a fair settlement which has changed our client’s life.

Our client married her second husband in 1990, the couple had a son together and a son from her previous relationship was also treated as a child of the family. The relationship broke down and in 2011 the couple agreed to separate.

Our client found the process of separating very stressful, attending hospital on several occasions with chest pains and at one point admitted and diagnosed with stress and anxiety. On returning home, her husband suggested that they divide their assets equally so she could then leave and buy her own property.

The husband gave our client a document to this effect but she told us that when the he discovered her discussing the document with her cousin he became cross and took it from her. Weeks later, in the company of someone he claimed to be a solicitor, the husband gave our client another document and told her to ‘sign it or you will get nothing.’

At the time, the principal asset was equity of almost 90% in the £340k family home. The document provided for our client to receive c£50k of which she was required to give £20k to the children to share equally. She signed the document without legal advice or financial disclosure.

The family home was transferred into the husband’s sole name and he re-mortgaged to pay her the lump sum. Our client was released from the mortgage on the former family home and she took out a mortgage in her own name on a flat in which she could live with their younger son.

Feeling more in control and with her health issues subsiding, our client approached Miles & Partners to ask whether she had achieved a fair result and if she could do anything about it if she had not.

Our lawyers advised that she had not obtained a fair and reasonable outcome. They put forward the following reasons for not being bound to the agreement

  • she was told that if she did not sign the document she would receive nothing
  • there was no financial disclosure prior to signing the agreement
  • there was no independent legal advice prior to signing the agreement
  • the person introduced to our client as a solicitor turned out to be a travel agent
  • the witness did not actually witness our client signing the document
  • our client was suffering from ill health and stress at the time of the agreement
  • the document recorded that there had been financial disclosure when there had not
  • the agreement as set out in the document did not provide for fair or equitable division.

We wrote to the husband explaining his wife’s position and offered mediation. When he did not engage, we issued an application for financial orders, inviting the husband to let us know if he had changed his mind about mediation. He did not and we registered a home rights notice against the former matrimonial home pending land action.

The husband instructed a direct access barrister to represent him and provided a financial statement which included previously undisclosed debts of £60k, in the name of his sari selling business, which he sought to prove were matrimonial debts.

Our client told us that the business was not well run and accounts were not properly kept. Stephen advised her not to accept this mismanagement.

Following the First Direction Appointment (FDA) including replies to a questionnaire and a narrative statement, we asked the husband for a balance payment of £90k to achieve equity of division.

He would not agree to any further payment and believed that our client should be held to the original agreement. The Judge at the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing gave her view that the agreement would not be upheld and that he should pay our client the sum sought.

At the final hearing he offered to pay his wife £25k, then £50k, then £75k. When she said she would accept £80k the case settled. We drafted a consent order with a default provision allowing for an immediate order for sale of the former matrimonial home should the £80k not be paid.

Although she could have pursued the full amount and costs, our client was happy with this outcome which achieved close to equality and has led to a significant improvement to her life.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.