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Legal Malpractice in Divorce Actions in Tennessee

marriageAll professionals who provide services to others are required to uphold a high standard of care when dealing with clients.  In the medical professional field, this means abiding by certain tenets of medical care and prioritizing the well-being of the patient. In the legal field, lawyers are required to abide by certain codes of ethics that govern the profession and protect clients from abuse or negligent representation.  When a lawyer is believed to have failed to meet his or her professional standards, a client may sue for legal malpractice, a type of tort similar to medical malpractice. A recent case in the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considered a legal malpractice action against an attorney for allegedly failing to draft a proper prenuptial agreement.

In Dustin Scott Roberts v. William R. Ray, Mr. Roberts engaged the services of Mr. Ray to prepare a prenuptial agreement for him before his marriage to his wife, Ms. Freeman. Mr. Ray drafted an agreement that set forth the separate property owned by each couple, as well as stating an intention to keep all property and debts separate, even in marriage. In addition, the agreement provided that each party understood the assets owned by the other and waived any claim to the assets of the other, including 401K accounts, brokerage accounts, and real estate.

Mr. Roberts and Ms. Freeman married, but seven years later they separated. Ms. Freeman sought spousal support, despite the fact that it was prohibited by the prenuptial agreement.  She argued that although she had signed the agreement, it was invalid because there had not been a full and fair disclosure of Mr. Roberts’ actual net worth and assets. She also claimed that Mr. Ray had not advised her that she was entitled to have the prenuptial agreement reviewed by independent counsel. At a hearing on the matter, Ms. Freeman stated that she had conceded to the agreement because she did not want Mr. Roberts’ family to believe she was marrying him for his money. She further said that she had spent very little time reviewing the agreement and did not attempt to negotiate it because she believed that Mr. Ray was representing her as well. The divorce court ultimately set aside the prenuptial agreement because it found that a reasonable disclosure of Mr. Roberts’ assets had not been made to Ms. Freeman. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Roberts filed a legal malpractice claim against Mr. Ray.

Mr. Roberts argued that Mr. Ray had failed to abide by the applicable standard of care when drafting the prenuptial agreement because he did not ensure that both parties were fully aware of the assets of the other and did not inform Ms. Freeman of her right to secure independent counsel. According to Mr. Ray, during the drafting of the agreement, there were discussions between both spouses that showed they knew the value of each other’s assets and that he had suggested independent counsel to Ms. Freeman, but she rejected the idea.  Mr. Ray was granted summary judgment at the trial court level because the trial court determined that the agreement provided adequate notice to the parties of assets, and Ms. Freeman had freely signed the agreement.

On appeal, the appellate court considered whether the agreement contained a full and fair disclosure of the nature and value of Mr. Roberts’ assets or whether such a disclosure was unnecessary because Ms. Freeman had independent knowledge of the nature and value of his assets. The appellate court determined there was no dispute between Mr. Roberts and Ms. Freeman, that a full disclosure had not been made in the agreement, and that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Ms. Freeman had independent knowledge of Mr. Roberts’ assets and, if not, whether Mr. Ray breached his duty of care in allowing the agreement to move forward. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court on the summary judgment motion and remanded for further proceedings.

Bringing a legal malpractice claim can often seem like a claim within a claim. You may have to deal with the harm caused by a lawyer’s error, as well as the error itself.  In these situations, having a lawyer skilled in personal injury and malpractice claims can be very helpful. Personal injury attorney Eric Beasley has extensive experience representing Tennessee residents in both personal injury and malpractice claims, and he can help you evaluate whether prior legal advice you have received may fall below the proper standard of care. If you have recently been harmed as a result of malpractice, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Managing Parallel Criminal and Civil Proceedings for Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Injury Lawyer Blog, February 24, 2016.

What You Need to File a Medical Malpractice Claim, Tennessee Injury Lawyer Blog, January 27, 2016.

Why Hire Medical Malpractice Lawyers in Nashville, TN?, Tennessee Injury Lawyer Blog, February 24, 2015