It’s all too easy for those who have been married for some time to assume they can sign an agreement on behalf of their partner, particularly if one spouse is the normal decision maker where investments and the like are concerned. This can be a very dangerous assumption, and can lead to confusion and loss, as the following demonstrates.
In a recent case, a husband and wife attended a property fair. There were various developers present, as well as lawyers who could be retained to arrange investments. The husband saw something he liked, and got a lawyer to arrange an agreement for purchase of a flat. The agreement listed both him and his wife, but she never signed; in fact, she was not even present. In the end, and after paying a large deposit, the couple wanted to pull out. The developer tried to retain the deposit, and at first struggled to do so.
However, a judge determined that the agreement was binding on the husband only, as he had probably never considered the issue of whether he would be bound if his wife, for whatever reason, wasn’t. In this instance, he had signed a contract which stated, in part: “Where two or more persons constitute the Purchaser all obligations contained in this Agreement on the part of the Purchaser shall be joint and several obligations on the part of such persons”. This is legal speak for the idea that the husband and wife were obligated as individuals, and together, so even if the wife never agreed, the husband could still be bound. If the lawyer he hired hadn’t explained this to him, they might have a claim against the lawyer, but the developer still won in this instance, and kept the deposit.
It is very important that you work with lawyers who will explain all pitfalls to you in plain English. To speak to a member of our team about a similar issue, please get in touch with us on CommercialDept@woodfines.co.uk