Just a short while ago there was a case which made news headlines. A couple had split up many years past when they were poor students and got divorced. The husband then went on to become a multi-millionaire. About 20 years after the event his former wife brought a claim against him, even though they had agreed at the time to go their separate ways on the basis of a clean break. A court allowed her claim to proceed.
Now another case has seen a former wife obtain a successful £2.7 million divorce settlement, ten years after they split up. The husband became a successful business man and is the owner of a major fashion chain which incorporates brands such as Lambretta. The husband said at the time that they separated, the parties came to a clean break agreement and he let his wife keep the £700,000 family home, paid off the mortgage of £150,000 and gave her a £10,000 a year salary plus, of course child support. He kept the business though at the time the business was ‘only’ turning over a million pounds a year (as opposed to the £30 million it apparently now turns over). They came to a verbal agreement.
Unfortunately neither of them had the agreement formalised. It appears that solicitors were not involved. This left the door open as the Court decided that there had not been a clean break as nothing had been signed off by a judge and the wife was therefore entitled to bring this fresh claim. Every case does, of course go on its own facts but this again emphasises the vital importance of taking proper legal advice at the time of separation. If the husband had done so in the Lambretta case, his wife would undoubtedly have been happy to sign a legal agreement at that time and the husband would have been protected going forward, as would his business. The costs of drawing up a legally binding agreement reflecting the terms that the parties had reached would be minimal compared to the costs of the current litigation, never mind the amount the wife has now been awarded. The husband seemed to take the view that he had trusted his wife and a quote in the Daily Telegraph says ‘I didn’t drag her up to the solicitors to get the agreement signed – we’d been married for years. I didn’t think she would do anything like this years later’.
Circumstances change. Do not assume that because you’ve had a handshake and an amicable parting at the time of separation and you feel that you have settled everything that your former partner will not change their mind later or perhaps be influenced by new people that might come into their life. In addition they could find themselves in a position where they have no option but to claim if they fall on hard times. Make sure you have certainty – a relatively small amount spent now checking it out is better than thousands later……