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Farming family businesses have sadly made The Law Reports frequently over the last few years. Each case tells a very unhappy story many of which mark the end of what in times past were clearly contented farm families. Each one indicating a breakdown within the family, often through promises no doubt genuinely made or alleged followed by bitter misunderstandings. Looking in many of those cases it would seem the main beneficiaries of this unhappiness have been only the Lawyers. Matters which could or should have been resolved through discussion and/or careful legal drafting years before the dispute. Due to the wonders of the internet and the reporting of cases many of the facts, together with the necessary judgments which follow, can be read using the neutral citation and tapping into the internet.

In Abberley & Others v. Abberley 2019 EWHC 1564 (Ch) HHJ Jarman QC was asked to deal with such a dispute. The last in the current line of reported cases. In short, the finding that Heads of Terms between family members could be treated as a binding contract.

In May 2019 Habberfield v. Habberfield 2019 RWCA Civ 890 reached the Court of Appeal, the facts and first instance decision having been considered the year before (see below).

A month earlier Guest v. Guest 2019 EWHC 869 (Ch) was decided by HHJ Russen QC in Bristol. A case involving Pump Farm. In a case basing the age-old issue of son working exceptional hours (but not in milk farming terms) on the family farm in the expectation that one day the farm or at least part of it would be his. A familiar story and compliant.

In fact, there has been a stream of cases all involving the farming community in recent years and it must be understood for each case reported there must be many more resolved by Mediation. The cases include Ham v. Ham [2013] EWCA Civ 1301, Davies & Davies v Davies [2016] EWCA Civ 64, James v James [2018] EWHC 43 (Ch), the first instant decision in Habberfield v. Habberfield [2018] EWHC 317 (Ch) and Wild v. Wild [2018] EWHC 2197.

All these cases illustrate the wisdom of even within a caring family for a proper set of Heads of Terms or Shareholders or Partnership Agreement drafted during a time of happiness but anticipating that it is possible for there to be unhappiness at some later stage. Once drafted and agreed with annual review probably when the farm accounts are prepared by the Accountant. People change and life often raises the unexpected. The cost will be infinitely less than the pain in the family of such disputes and for that matter the cost of a High Court case. Some of these reported cases illustrate the need for care in what is written and how it is worded. Hence the suggestion that it is infinitely cheaper to pay for a Lawyers careful advice and drafting than the cost of getting a party out of a hole.

Contact Hassall Law if you would like further information(01548) 854878 or email enquiries@hassall.law

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