A High Court judge has ordered a two month adjournment in a long-running financial dispute so the divorced couple can make one final attempt at alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
In Mann v Mann, the couple had initially reached an ancillary relief (maintenance) agreement in 1999. After both parties applied to vary (change) the financial agreement, a complex series of disputes began over a number of years. These culminated in the wife issuing a statutory demand for payment in 2010, claiming that he owed her £1.2 million. They reached a detailed legal agreement in November 2011. This included an intention to mediate. It stated:
“The Parties by the Agreement intend to set out their intention to use reasonable endeavours to attempt to compromise all existing legal disputes between them and to provide for the present and future maintenance of [the wife].”
Later, the wife moved into a different house and after a time the husband stopped paying rent on the property, claiming he had run out of money. The wife argued that their previous legal agreement implied his responsibility to pay rent on the ‘substitute’ house, but the husband denied this, insisting that he had met all his obligations under the agreement.
The wife applied for enforcement of the payment of a sum approaching £2 million, under rule 33.3(2)(b) of the Financial Procedure Rules 2010. The husband argued that she was not allowed to do so because she had previously agreed to mediation.
At a High Court hearing, Mr Justice Mostyn noted:
“The wife strongly disputes this. She says that the court cannot force or coerce her to mediate, whatever she might have agreed.”
The judge added:
“In my judgment it was not implicit in the agreement that the husband would pay rent for an alternative property. I agree that he has complied with its financial terms.”
The previously agreed mediation should have taken place quickly, said the judge, and both parties were to blame for the delay.
“In my judgment they both remain bound by their agreement to mediate.”
“…it is clear that the agreement cannot be given effect so as to prevent the wife from applying for enforcement until and unless mediation has taken place. A bar of that nature would operate as a restriction on the right to apply to the court.”
Mr Justice Mostyn concluded:
“The most that can be done in balancing the obligation to mediate under the agreement and the right of access to justice is for an adjournment to be ordered for a specified period to give the parties a final opportunity to engage in ADR. In my judgment the adjournment should be for 8 weeks.”