It is quite common for divorcees to claim that they have been placed under undue pressure to strike an unfavourable financial deal. However, in one big money case recently reviewed by Stuart Barton, a judge ruled that a wife was no lamb to the slaughter but voluntarily signed up to a compromise with her ex-husband which was toasted with champagne.
The German couple, aged in their 70s, enjoyed an immensely high standard of living during their marriage of over 30 years. Following their divorce in Germany, there was a meeting at a hotel during which both signed a settlement agreement by which the husband was to make substantial financial and other provision for the wife.
She, however, went on to swiftly repudiate the agreement and launched proceedings in England – where she resided – seeking financial relief against the husband under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. She asserted that he and the couple’s son had placed her under massive pressure to enter into the agreement, which she had not signed of her own free will.
Rejecting those allegations, however, the judge found that she was the driving force behind the meeting taking place and that she could not be viewed as a supplicant cowed into submission by a bullying ex-husband and son. Far from being upset, disappointed or distressed at the meeting, her mood was one of relief. She willingly engaged in the champagne toast and considered at the time that she had achieved a good result. She signed the agreement voluntarily, with her eyes open.
Her subsequent repudiation of the deal was an act of foolishness that only served to weaken her position. The terms of the agreement were, in any event, not unfair and the provision it made for her future fell very much within the bracket of awards that she might have obtained from an English court.
Despite her repudiation of the agreement, the judge was confident that the husband – who had professed his wish to do the right thing by her – would comply with its terms. In order to secure her position, however, the provisions of the agreement were encapsulated in an order of the court. The judge hoped that his ruling would mark an end to the years of strife that had riven the family.
We Asked Senior Associate Solicitor Stuart Barton For His Expert Insight
Whilst it is not unheard of for a party to seek to repudiate a settlement agreement arising from divorce, the circumstances when the Family Court will allow such an agreement to be challenged are rare indeed. If a party is considering such a challenge, obtaining sound legal advice before committing to any course of action is highly recommended, as the wife found to her cost in this case.
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