Coming closely on the heels of Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince the recently reported case of Norma and Peter Wilson illustrates again the need for great care when a couple go through a divorce to avoid future problems.
The issue surrounding Kathleen Wyatt was whether she should be able to make a claim against her ex-husband over 20 years after their divorce following him becoming a multi-millionaire in the intervening period. Although a final decision has not yet been made on this case the Supreme Court has ruled that her claim is not ruled out because of the long period since the divorce and potentially she could be receiving a substantial settlement.
The issues surrounding Norma and Peter Wilson are similar in that they did not obtain a Consent Order at the time of the divorce setting out financial arrangements. The big difference however in this case was that Mr and Mrs Wilson had substantial assets and were millionaires but failed to obtain a Consent Order recording a financial settlement.
Mr and Mrs Wilson reached an agreement but that was never confirmed by a Consent Order. It appears that in an effort to save money they only got as far as the Solicitors drafting the proposed Order which was never filed with the Court or approved. Whilst Mr and Mrs Wilson appeared to have been in a very amicable arrangement when the divorce took place in 2006 that did not continue and the financial situation disintegrated leaving Mrs Wilson reportedly having to swap her £3.2 million home for a rented Council flat and living on benefits. This case came before the High Court recently when Mrs Wilson took Proceedings against her previous Solicitors claiming that they had been negligent on the basis that she had not been told that the Consent Order that had been drawn up meant nothing until approved by a Court and nor did they warn of the risk of implementing any clauses before approval. The Solicitors defended the Proceedings on the basis that Mrs Wilson's plans went "pear-shaped" but that was not the Solicitors' fault as the only brief given had been to draw up an agreement reached between Mr and Mrs Wilson and not to advise upon the merits of it nor to submit an Application to the Court.
The High Court Judge commented that the terms of the couple's agreement were a "recipe for disaster" and that things had gone "completely wrong". The claim was settled so it is not clear what the outcome would have been if the Judge had had to make a decision. However it is another salutary lesson both to people going through a divorce and to Solicitors involved in Divorce Proceedings. Whilst the Courts and Solicitors encourage agreement to be reached, and all clients want to keep their legal costs to the minimum, there are risks involved. The trust that may have been present at the time of a divorce and settlement being agreed can disappear leaving ex-spouses regretting the lack of action taken at the time. Whether it is a case like Kathleen Wyatt and Dale Vince where they had no money at the time or whether there is substantial money as in Mr and Mrs Wilson's case. The dangers of not taking full legal advice and trying to have a "DIY" divorce are huge.
With legal aid now largely not being available for any family work of this nature more and more people are attempting the DIY approach or alternatively looking for Solicitors to do a small amount of the work but without paying too much. Solicitors are having to be more and more careful about the advice they give, the work they do and the disclaimers that they insist upon. There is a risk that clients subsequently look to blame someone having made a mess of the situation themselves.
At Clapham & Collinge our advice is bespoke, confidential and totally designed around you. For more information, or to find out how we can help, contact our Norwich branch on 01603 693500 or our Sheringham branch on 01263 823398.