Separation agreements – do they offer “full protection”?

An article in the Telegraph today about a mother suing her solicitor for £15,000,000 for a failed agreement may be sending alarm bells ringing both to other family lawyers and those who have had separation agreements drafted in the last couple of years.

I have to say that the first thing that caught my eye was the headline “Mother sues lawyer for £15m”. The Daily Mail went for “wealthy mother”. Why mother wealthy or otherwise?

It is suggested that Mrs Mathiesen, whose marriage was strained, went to see solicitors to have an agreement drawn up giving her “full protection”. In family law terms this would be impossible to achieve because a separation agreement always carries a degree of risk, no matter how small. It cannot achieve “full protection”. Only a consent order at the conclusion of a divorce can achieve this.

But the article on the same subject in the Daily Mail sheds a little more light. It seems, reading between the lines, that this was not a separation agreement after all but a shareholders agreement which Mrs Mathiesen signed. Her barrister is quoted in the article ‘Had she been properly advised, she would never have assented to the shareholders’ agreement in the form in which it was executed,’

It would appear from this that Mrs Mathiesen was a shareholder in the company in her own right, which surely begs the question (from the same article) why on earth she found out from someone on the school run that her husband was on the Sunday Times rich list. Did she really not have an inkling?

No doubt further details will emerge as the case progresses but for the time being family lawyers and separating couples should not assume that this was a problem with a separation agreement.

Separation agreements however, like consent orders, can only contain agreed clauses. It is essential to understand those clauses and to ensure that where you have a specific goal, this is discussed with your solicitor in plain English and any questions you have are answered before you sign.

Remember as well that you cannot force someone into an agreement.

Recently I have been contacted by someone wanting to use a template separation agreement of a website. Please be wary. These documents will only help you if your situation is very simple indeed.

It is well worth the cost of having a properly drawn up separation agreement. These are your assets and you need to ensure that what happens to them is what you thought was going to happen.

I have no idea what happened in Mrs Mathiesen’s case but it certainly looks as though this was not a family law issue in itself but a company law issue.

I’ve still not worked out why it was so important that she was a mother though…

For details on how to arrange a separation agreement and how much it will cost please look at our website. Fees start from £240 including VAT.

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