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Norma Wilson was a nurse and property developer who had been married to her husband since 1989. Sadly, their marriage broke down in 2006, although the pair had separated on good terms. The family matrimonial home in Ascot was worth £3.2 million and it was decided by the separating couple that they would convert the property in to 15 luxury flats with an intention that this would maximise funds which could then be split upon divorce.

 

Miss Wilson engaged the services of a law firm and was supposedly encouraged to ‘take a commercial view’ and attempt to settle the divorce by agreement. Accordingly, Miss Wilson offered to pay her husband £500,000 for his share of the property, and that a further £1,000,000 would be released to him upon the completion of the development works.

 

This was accepted by Miss Wilson’s husband and so she proceeded to refinance the property in order to release and pay over the £500,000 that had been agreed. However, and more importantly, it was alleged that the solicitors had failed to advise Miss Wilson before she took these steps that there was always a possibility that the Court may not approve the agreement that the divorcing couple had reached. Indeed, that came to be the case, and after her husband placed a matrimonial rights restriction over the property she was unable to obtain further lending to facilitate the intended development.

Miss Wilson was faced with huge repayments which she could not maintain and came to sell the property for only £1.9 million in November 2009. By the time she had paid off loans and the mortgage, she was effectively penniless whilst her husband had received £630,000 in assets and the £500,000 she had already paid to him.

 

As a result of what transpired, Miss Wilson brought a claim for £2m against her legal advisors for failing to make clear that there was a risk of setting in to motion the agreed terms of settlement before these had been approved by the Court and, in essence, that their advice to try and divorce ‘on the cheap’ was negligent. The solicitor’s stance was that the extent of their contract for services to Miss Wilson was restricted to simply drafting the terms of the agreed settlement, but that they were not asked to advise her in any way about the commerciality of the settlement itself.

 

The professional negligence claim against the solicitors was ultimately settled on a confidential basis.

 

This is a cautionary tale to those seeking to divorce. It is clear that making the wrong decisions can lead to catastrophic and incredibly costly consequences. The importance of receiving correct expert legal advice during the course of a divorce cannot be overstated.

 

If you require expert advice concerning divorce, please get in touch with our Head of Family, Rob Parker, on 01256 305530 or email rob.parker@lambbrooks.com who will be happy to discuss your situation. Rob is also a trained mediator and therefore can offer a variety of different ways to assist couples who are separating.

 

Alternatively, if you unfortunately find yourself in similar circumstances to that of Miss Wilson, you may have a professional negligence claim against your lawyer, so please contact Andrew Maidment who is an Associate Solicitor and Head of the Professional Negligence Department on 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com.

 

 

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.