Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time.
So said Abraham Lincoln, who is also reputed to have said that a good settlement is better than a good lawsuit. The same remains true today.
Yet another recent case is proof of that. It is reported that Koo Stark (former friend of Prince Andrew) has lost a claim for lifetime support from her former partner. She was claiming £50,000 per annum as a lifetime allowance from her former partner and a payment of £200,000. The Court of Appeal has refused an appeal on the grounds that the case is without merit.
The convoluted background is that Ms Stark claimed that in September 1997 Mr Walker had made a contract with her by which he promised to pay her £50,000 per annum, index-linked for inflation, plus all of her rent and household expenses, for the remainder of her life. The document on which the promise was written stated that it was ‘more than any legal obligation [Mr Walker] is eligible for but he does this out of kindness and love and guarantees the amount’.
Ms Stark and Mr Walker fell out over access to their child and in 2000 Ms Stark flew to Florida and commenced the first of many claims. She subsequently brought proceedings in New York claiming roughly $39 million, which were summarily dismissed. Mr Walker brought Hague proceedings for the return of the child from Florida. When those proceedings were settled, the settlement agreement, alongside a host of provisions for the maintenance of the child, included the following clause: “Walker will pay Ms Stark 200,000 pounds for the purpose of securing housing in the United Kingdom”.
After 13 years of contested private proceedings in the Family Division pursuant to the Children Act 1989 in 2014 Ms Stark served a statutory demand on Mr Walker claiming £200,000 due under the Florida settlement agreement. She then issued proceedings in the Chancery Division also claiming declarations that the 1997 contract was still binding.
The trial judge found that the 1997 promise was not supported by consideration; Mr Walker had written it with the appearance of formality in order to gain access to his child, but it was not an enforceable contract.
As for the Florida settlement agreement, the Judge found that the agreement was not, properly construed, for Ms Stark’s personal benefit, but for the benefit of the child.
Ms Stark must now pay Mr Walker’s legal costs which alone are said to come to £285,000 as well as her own costs. The press is reporting that she will be ruined from a financial perspective.
We quite often deal with disputes between former unmarried couples, and they are often highly fraught and expensive, similar to will disputes. Mediation is ideal in these cases as it can avoid the legal costs that neither party can really afford. Mediation is private and so damaging stories about the litigation can also be avoided. It is not known whether Ms Stark and Mr Walker took part in any mediation but the case does show how legal proceedings can lead to financial disaster for the losing party.