A millionaire ex-banker who tried to sue his own legal team after his royal toymaker wife walked away with more than £2million in their divorce settlement has had his claim thrown out at the High Court.
Mark Nieman, 63, took Withers LLP to the central London court to argue that his ex-wife Jeanette Nieman, 47 – whose swing set was once bought as a gift for Prince George – received £1million too much due to the firm’s ‘negligent’ advice.
Mr Nieman, a former stockbroker for UBS, had held onto the £3million family home and a sprawling farm near Canterbury – home to a luxury Airbnb business – in the deal, as well as cash and around £1million in company shares.
But he felt his wife was awarded too much after walking away with three cottages, her £800,000 new home, a holiday house in Norway, her gifts company, a £400,000 share of his UBS pension and a lump sum cash payment of £695,000.
Withers LLP, however, said it was a ‘classic case of hindsight’ in which a client wished they had done things differently ‘for a better result’ , adding that Ms Nieman had been awarded 39 per cent of the family’s total assets, which is far lower than the more common 50-50 split for long marriages such as theirs.
Mr Justice Andrew Baker agreed, ruling that Mr Nieman could not blame his lawyers, especially after thrashing out key parts of the 2017 deal with his ex himself ‘over the kitchen table’ – including agreeing in private to pay her a £1m lump sum and signing the agreement without telling his legal team.
Mark Nieman (pictured), 63, took Withers LLP to the High Court in central London to argue that his ex-wife Jeanette Nieman, 47 – whose swing set was once bought as a gift for Prince George – received £1million too much due to the firm’s ‘negligent’ advice
Mr Nieman felt his ex-wife (pictured) was awarded too much after walking away with three cottages, her £800,000 new home, a holiday house in Norway, her gifts company, a £400,000 share of his UBS pension and a lump sum cash payment of £695,000
Aerial photo shows Upper Park Gate farm near Canterbury, which Mr Nieman held onto in the 2017 divorce settlement agreed with his now ex-wife. It is home to a luxury Airbnb business
Mr Nieman must now pay the law firm £35,000 in unpaid bills after they successfully filed a counter-claim.
The court had heard how Mr Nieman had a successful 20-year career in the City as a stock-broker, in later years working for investment bank UBS, where he met his future wife Jeanette – a high-earning accountant – in 1998.
They married in 2000 and had two children, enjoying a ‘very good standard of living’ with a nanny, private schooling and expensive holidays.
Following the birth of their children, Ms Nieman gave up her job and devoted herself to the family, and in 2005, Mr Nieman – then in his 40s – retired to Kent to ‘pursue the country life and less stressful interests.’
There, Ms Nieman set up her now thriving business, The Oak and Rope Company, which specialises in ‘high-quality gifts’ made from oak and rope, the judge said.
‘The company became successful. Its products are popular. It has contracts with the John Lewis Partnership and even a purchase by the royal family of a swing as a birthday gift for Prince George,’ he said.
However, the marriage faltered and, in the summer of 2015, Ms Nieman told her husband – who was in ill health and ‘extremely distressed’ at the news – that she wanted a divorce.
The court heard minimising the lawyers’ bills associated with divorce had been at the forefront of Mr Nieman’s mind when he approached Withers LLP to advise him through to a settlement.
‘Keeping costs down was a significant concern of his throughout,’ said the judge, adding that the firm had been instructed to act in the background as Mr Nieman wanted a ‘kitchen table’ divorce, negotiated directly between the former couple.
The court had heard how Mr Nieman had a successful 20-year career in the City as a stock-broker, in later years working for investment bank UBS, where he met his future wife Jeanette (pictured) – a high-earning accountant – in 1998
But the pair were unable to come to a complete agreement until after Ms Nieman issued a legal claim, resulting in a court-approved settlement in 2017 which left her with assets and cash worth over £2million.
The deal resulted in Mr Nieman getting the £3m family home and farm at Upper Park Gate Farm, near Canterbury, as well as cash and about £1m worth of shares in various companies.
Ms Nieman got three cottages, her £800,000 new home, a holiday house in Norway, her gifts company, a £400,000 share of his UBS pension and a lump sum cash payment of £695,000.
Suing the law firm, Mr Nieman claimed that the result was unfair and that he should not have ended up sharing his UBS pension with his ex or paying her more than £100,000 as a lump sum.
His lawyers had failed to ‘properly advise’ him about the distinction between assets brought into the marriage and those built up during the relationship, causing him to agree a worse deal than he should have got, he claimed.
But acting for Withers, barrister Amanda Savage QC denied that his lawyers were negligent, pointing out that Mr Nieman had done most of the negotiating himself and signed without telling them.
He had in 2016 agreed, without telling his lawyers, to pay Ms Nieman a £1million cash sum, and Withers had managed to help him negotiate that down to £695,000, plus a share of his pension, she said.
‘It is a notable feature of this case that Mr Nieman did not wish or instruct Withers to act on a ‘wholesale’ basis, but wanted them to advise him in the background with a view to negotiating the divorce settlement with Jeanette directly, ‘over the kitchen table’, using a mutual friend as an intermediary at times,’ she told the court.
‘The fact and detail of these direct discussions was often not relayed to Withers either at all or until after concessions had been made in the negotiations.’
She added that Withers LLP had often been asked to comment on matters which had already been discussed or even agreed between Mr and Ms Nieman, and often on the basis of incomplete information.
Ms Nieman (pictured) set up her now thriving business, The Oak and Rope Company, which specialises in ‘high-quality gifts’ made from oak and rope. One of the company’s swing sets was bought as a gift for Prince George
And she accused Mr Nieman of ‘re-writing history’ in claiming that he should not have been advised to share his pension – when it was he who came up with the idea.
In the end, Ms Nieman had walked away with about 39 per cent of the family’s total assets, which was a ‘good result’ for Mr Nieman following a long marriage, since it could easily have resulted in a 50-50 split.
‘It is contended that this claim is a classic case of hindsight, and an example of a claimant wishing they had done things differently and achieved a better result,’ she said.
She added: ‘There is no real prospect that Mr Nieman would have achieved a better result in the underlying claim, either by settlement or at trial.’
Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Andrew Baker said Mr Nieman had been keen to keep the costs down and had wanted to negotiate a settlement directly with his wife.
But although he had been ‘honest with the court,’ Mr Nieman’s memory of the time meant he was ‘not a reliable historian of the material events.’
‘The idea to offer to pension share as a quid pro quo for a reduced cash sum came from Mr Nieman, not from Withers,’ he said.
‘Mr Nieman had always regarded it as a beneficial arrangement.
‘I consider the true position to be that, so long as any financial package for Ms Nieman involved a substantial payment from Mr Nieman, he would probably have preferred and offered a pension share in place of some or all of the cash sum obligation.’
‘I conclude that the negligence claim against Withers fails,’ said the judge, adding that Mr Nieman’s evidence had been ‘all over the place’ in terms of what he said he would have done differently with different advice.
Withers’ counter-claim for payment of about £35,000 in unpaid bills was allowed.