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A mother claims that her 2006 million-dollar settlement was botched by her divorce lawyer and is suing him for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Public relations adviser Catherine Dorothy Uechtritz alleges in her statement of claim that her solicitor, Michael Habermann, from Hendra, was “severely affected by alcohol, having drunk to excess the evening before” the day he botched her settlement. She claims that no competent solicitor would have advised her to take the settlement, in which her ex-husband received $3.7 million and she received $1.26 million from the sale of a north Queensland cattle property.

Lawyers representing her in the Supreme Court said because Mr Habermann advised Ms Uechtritz she “ought to accept” the settlement offer, Mr Kennedy was able to take a larger share of their marital assets, leaving her massively out of pocket and with a huge tax bill. She also says that Mr Habermann failed to convey her offer of a counter-settlement to her ex-husband.  She says that she commented to Mr Habermann: “I can’t believe after 25 years of marriage, four kids and the fact that I have been supporting the kids for the last few years, I get less than 50 per cent of the (asset) pool”.

Catherine Uechtritz is suing her divorce lawyer.

Catherine Uechtritz is suing her divorce lawyer.

Even after the settlement, Ms Uechtritz asked Mr Habermann if she could try to set it aside but he ­allegedly advised her that “she had no prospects of success”.

There is no specific rules in family law regarding how much each spouse ought to get in a property settlement. The Family Law Act 1975 sets out the guidelines for how property settlements between parties should be settled. The major factors taken into consideration include:

  • The property pool – what you own and what will be part of the pool of assets to be split
  • Contributions – the financial and non-financial contributions made by each party during the relationship
  • Future needs – an assessment will be made about the future needs of each party, including their ability to earn an income and who will be responsible for child care

Other considerations include the length of the relationship and whether the property settlement as a whole is ‘just and equitable’.

Having your divorce case end up before the courts is a last resort. Prior to a court battle, lawyers will encourage both parties to settle as amicably as possible. A term for settling a divorce this way is known as mediation. Mediation involves you and your former spouse sitting down with an independent third person (a mediator) to attempt to resolve issues in dispute. This usually helpful process does not necessarily require that you and your former spouse face each other in same room. The mediator may move between you in separate rooms.

It’s also important to note that the family court will require you to attempt mediation where parenting arrangements are being made. This is also known as Family Dispute Resolution.

We always encourage and assist our clients to mediate – with a view to hopefully avoiding the emotional and financial costs of a court battle.