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Cardiff Devil

Help with solicitors following divorce

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Hi all

 

It's been a long time since I've used this site, I used to be a frequent poster, mainly in the parking subforums. 

 

I'll try and keep this as concise as possible, although it may get a bit confusing, so apologies in advance.  Also I hope this is the right subforum for such a matter, but I couldn't see anything more specific for divorces/family law.  So here goes..

 

My now ex-wife and I divorced last year, after our relationship broke down due to irreconcilable differences.  She initiated the divorce proceedings so was the petitioner, I was the respondent.  We informally agreed early on that she would stay at the family home (I moved out), and buy me out of my share of the house and contents.

 

We went to family mediation and hashed out an agreed settlement figure that we were mostly happy with.  A lump sum for the house and contents, plus she would give me the money to pay off several loans for goods on hire purchase that remained in the house, as the debts were solely in my name at the time. 

 

I did not contest the divorce on any point, except she wanted me to pay the court costs of the divorce (£850) since she blamed me for the breakdown of the marriage.  I objected to this on the financial paperwork, stating that I was not the petitioner, plus the cause of the breakdown of the marriage were not due to adultery or domestic abuse. 

 

The financial court ruled against me, meaning the £850 would be deducted from the final settlement figure.  I was looking to appeal against this decision which would have delayed the proceedings by several months, however in the meantime I was able to make an agreement with her solicitors to split the court costs 50:50, so we would in fact be paying £425 each.  They sent this offer in a letter headed "Without Prejudice", stating that if I was agreeable, they would submit an amended financial order to the courts with the amounts amended so I would only be paying £425 instead of £850 towards the costs.  I responded to this in writing and signed the form they sent me, initialling where the amount was changed on the financial order.

 

This is where it gets a bit tricky.  They then resubmitted the ORIGINAL financial order to the family with the £850 deduction still on it and promptly stopped responding to my calls and emails.  My ex wife has now paid the settlement figure, with the £850 deducted rather than the agreed upon £425.  It's a bit of an odd situation as my ex paid me basically exactly what it says on the court form, even though I made a different agreement with her solicitors.  I feel they've been dishonest in this case, whether intentionally or not but it's still left me over £400 out of pocket. 

 

My question basically is this?  Do I have any legal recourse options available to me against the solicitor?  Does the fact that they headed the offer letter "Without Prejudice" mean that they can basically go back against their word and not honour an agreement that was made in good faith?  I've been doing my own research into this subject and it's a bit of a minefield, but I'm wondering whether I've got grounds for a complaint to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, or possibly even pursuing them via the Small Claims Court?

 

Any thoughts?  If you need any more information or need me to clarify any particular points, please let me know.

 

Thanks in advance

CD


Please note;

 

I am not a legally qualified solicitor and all my advice is based on my past experiences in the relevant field. Although my advice will always be sincere, it should be used as guidance only.

I would always recommend to seek professional advice for clarification prior to taking any action.

Please click my reputation 'star' button at the bottom of my profile window on the left if you found my advice useful.

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I understand that you were involved in a contentious divorce in respect of which there was a bill for court costs – £850.

You decided to challenge the costs in court and you lost and an order was made against you.

We decided to appeal the order but before the appeal was heard, the solicitors made you a without prejudice offer of a 50-50 split – £425.

You agree to this and you signed the document to that effect which you returned to the solicitors.

Despite that the solicitors are now trying to impose the original £850 order.

Is that the correct order of events?

"Without prejudice" is certainly something that doesn't seem to be very well understood, including by solicitors.

"Without prejudice" can protect an offer from being disclosed to the court where the offer has been refused so that it is not binding on anyone.
However, without prejudice cannot be used to hide everything from the court – including wrongdoings, unethical behaviour et cetera.
It seems to me that once you sign the agreement you effectively had a contract.
I'd like to know a little bit more about the agreement that you signed but presumably it was intended to bring a halt to any further proceedings.
I don't think there is any difficulty about disclosing a contract to the court in the circumstances. It is only the offer which was made without prejudice. Once the agreement was accepted and signed then the document acquired a wholly different character. It was no longer an offer open to be accepted or refused. It was a legally binding contract which imposed obligations upon both sides.

In my view the solicitors have acted in a highly unethical way and I would begin by making a complaint to the SRA.

I wonder whether the solicitors proposed the 50-50 split to you without consulting with their client and when they then contacted their client and told her what had been agreed, she refused to accept it and on that basis the solicitors recognised that they had made an error but rather than accept their responsibility and footing the £425 out of their own pockets, they preferred to get it from you.

Of course this is just speculation but it seems to me to be quite a possible scenario.

I'd like to see the agreement post up here please – that my sense is that you should complain to the SRA and you should tell the solicitors that this is what you're doing.

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The Legal Ombudsman has a wider remit than the SRA, and can always refer matters on to the SRA where they find a breach of the SRA's code.

 

I'd suggest writing to the solicitors, highlighting these issues, asking them to refund the money. If they don't then complain to the LO.

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Hi Bankfodder

 

Yes, your take on the events is pretty much spot-on.  The court, in their financial order decided for whatever reason that I should be eligible for the costs, the breakdown of this was £550 court fees, plus my ex-wife's solicitors fees of £250 plus VAT, making £850 total.  

 

I communicated my intention to her solicitors to appeal to the court regarding the costs as I felt this was unfair.  They responded with a revised offer of a 50/50 split as they were keen to put this thing to bed quickly, and my appeal could potentially have drawn it out for several more months.  I don't have access to a scanner until Monday so can't scan in the whole agreement at the moment but the relevant part of their letter is reproduced verbatim below;

Quote

 

"Our client is anxious to bring matters to a conclusion and complete the transfer of equity and mortgage as quickly as possible.  To this end she has confirmed that provided we are able to obtain from you a signed amended Order within 10 days of the date of this letter she would be prepared to agree to limit her claim for costs to £425.00 representing one half of the total costs.

 

We are taking the opportunity to enclose an amended financial order.  You will note that the claim for costs has been deleted.  If you are content to proceed with the amended order, it will be necessary for you to sign your initials in the margin alongside the amendment and to then re-sign and re-date the document where indicated by the crosses.  It should then be returned to these offices.  Again we stress that this proposal is time limited for 10 days from the date of this letter.  If the signed document is not received back at these offices by the 18th April our client's proposal, as set out above, should be treated as withdrawn and it will be our intention to respond to the Court putting forward submissions in relation to the costs order, which has already been made."

 

 

The above is on a letter headed "WITHOUT PREJUDICE".  I replied initially via email to confirm my acceptance of their offer, and the signed documents were returned in the post to the solicitors the following day.  However when the sealed financial order was received back from the court about a month later, the costs were still included.  My ex-wife has then deducted this from the total paid to me.  I have tried contacting the solicitors several times since then to clarify whether they are still intending to honour this agreement but I have so far had no response.  

 

I'm not sure now whether I need to pursue my ex for the remainder of this money, or the solicitors.  


Please note;

 

I am not a legally qualified solicitor and all my advice is based on my past experiences in the relevant field. Although my advice will always be sincere, it should be used as guidance only.

I would always recommend to seek professional advice for clarification prior to taking any action.

Please click my reputation 'star' button at the bottom of my profile window on the left if you found my advice useful.

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Well it seems slamdunk to me.

Not only that but they refer specifically to the original order and that they ask you to sign and "amended order". The only other explanation is maybe they have received it from you. Could that be a possibility?

I think I would initially drop them an informal line – by email and by letter saying that despite the amended order which you agree to on XXX date, you now see that the money which has been paid out you has had the full £850 deducted.

With a please explain why this has happened and why the terms of the amended order you understood had been agreed had not been.

Suggest that you send that after them immediately and will see what comes back. Maybe it is simply some misunderstanding and there is no point jumping the gun and started to issue threats if there is some innocent explanation. It certainly sounds a bit strange

 

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Thanks BF.  The only thing I can think of is that they may claim that they never received the signed amended order.  I communicated my intention to return it via email and then sent the signed paper copy the next day.  However it was about 3 months ago and I can't remember if I sent it via recorded delivery or not.  If they claim to have not received it I'm not sure what more I can do.


Please note;

 

I am not a legally qualified solicitor and all my advice is based on my past experiences in the relevant field. Although my advice will always be sincere, it should be used as guidance only.

I would always recommend to seek professional advice for clarification prior to taking any action.

Please click my reputation 'star' button at the bottom of my profile window on the left if you found my advice useful.

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Well start off by sending the letter I have suggested above.  


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Thanks BF.  I've sent them an email as follows;

 

Quote

 

Good afternoon xxx
 
I am writing again as I have not heard back from you in reply to my previous email below.
 
Your client has now paid her part of the settlement figure however I am disappointed to note that she has not honoured the agreement that was made as per your letter dated April 8th.  She has paid only £xxx, meaning that she has deducted the full £850 from the settlement figure rather than the 50:50 agreement that was made in your letter. 
 
I notice that you did not submit the amended financial order as was agreed.  Instead you submitted the original financial order. 
 
Please can you confirm when your client is intending to pay the remaining £425.00?
 
Kind regards
Cardiff Devil

 

 
If I haven't heard back from them within a few days I'll follow it up by post, and see where it goes from there.
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Please note;

 

I am not a legally qualified solicitor and all my advice is based on my past experiences in the relevant field. Although my advice will always be sincere, it should be used as guidance only.

I would always recommend to seek professional advice for clarification prior to taking any action.

Please click my reputation 'star' button at the bottom of my profile window on the left if you found my advice useful.

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Hi BF

 

I've heard back from the ex's solicitor today.  She's advised that this appears to be an error on the court's part that they were not aware of.  They've now written to the courts asking for the sealed order to be updated to reflect the amended order under the slip rule.

 

So fingers crossed, looks like this may be sorted. 🤞

 

Thanks for your assistance with this.  I'll keep you posted on how it progresses.

  • Like 1

Please note;

 

I am not a legally qualified solicitor and all my advice is based on my past experiences in the relevant field. Although my advice will always be sincere, it should be used as guidance only.

I would always recommend to seek professional advice for clarification prior to taking any action.

Please click my reputation 'star' button at the bottom of my profile window on the left if you found my advice useful.

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