In This Post
In this guide you'll learn what a Sears Tooth Agreement is, and how you might get one.
- What is a Sears Tooth Agreement?
- How do they work?
- What are the pros and cons?
- Am I eligible?
Let's dive right in...
What Is A Sears Tooth Agreement?
In simple terms a Sears Tooth Agreement is where your solicitor works for no fee upfront, but is instead paid from the proceeds of your <bloglink>divorce settlement<bloglink> at the end of the case.
At the outset you sign a contract with your solicitor agreeing that they will not ask you for any money until the case has ended. You in turn agree to assign them a right to deduct their fees from the final settlement, before the balance is paid to you.
This can be a great help to people who stand to win a significant settlement, but do not have the upfront funds to pay their legal fees.
Why Would I Need A Sears Tooth Agreement?
There are several reasons you might want to consider a Sears Tooth Agreement.
You may not have the funds available to pay your <bloglink>solicitor's fees<bloglink> upfront but can afford to do so from your settlement in due course.
This can be particularly helpful if you are expecting to receive a large sum of money from your ex-partner.
It can also help to ease the financial burden of <bloglink>divorce proceedings<bloglink>, as you will only have to pay your solicitor's fees once the case has been resolved.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of A Sears Tooth Agreement?
There are both pros and cons to consider before entering into a Sears Tooth Agreement:
However, there are some downsides to be aware of:
Am I Eligible For A Sears Tooth Agreement?
Not everyone is eligible for a Sears Tooth Agreement.
To be considered, you must be expected to receive a large enough sum of money from your divorce settlement to comfortably cover your legal fees.
Your solicitor will also need to assess whether or not you are likely to win your case before entering into a Sears Tooth Agreement with you.
If they do not believe that you have a strong case, then they may not offer you such an agreement, as it would put them at risk of not being paid for their work.
It is also important to note that Sears Tooth Agreements are only available for divorce cases, and cannot be used for other types of legal proceedings.
How To Make A Sears Tooth Agreement
If you think a Sears Tooth Agreement could be right for you, then the first step is to speak to a solicitor.
They will be able to assess your case and advise you on whether or not such an agreement is suitable.
The solicitor will need to make a prediction of what the legal fees in your case are likely to be, as well as an assessment of the value of your assets and how much you are likely to be awarded in a divorce settlement.
If they are willing to offer you a Sears Tooth Agreement then they will draw up a contract for you to sign. This contract will detail the terms of the agreement, including how much you will be expected to pay your solicitor once your case is completed.
You will need to get independent legal advice before signing the contract to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions (this usually costs a few hundred pounds at most). Once the contract is signed it needs to be sent to the court for approval, and to your ex-partner (or their solicitors) so they are aware that you have a funding agreement in place.
Once this process is completed the contract becomes legally enforceable, and your solicitor can begin work on your case.
Do All Lawyers Offer Sears Tooth Agreements?
No, not all lawyers offer Sears Tooth Agreements.
A Sears Tooth Agreement requires the lawyer to take on the risk of not being paid, which not all solicitors are willing to do.
In addition, the solicitor may have to fund your additional costs (called disbursements), which can include things like barrister's fees, <bloglink>court fees<bloglink>, and experts costs such as <bloglink>surveyors<bloglink> or <bloglink>forensic accountants.<bloglink>
Many are unwilling to take on this risk, or unable to cover the substantial costs.
You should also be aware that Sears Tooth Agreements are only available for divorce cases, and cannot be used for other types of legal proceedings.
All these factors mean that it's actually now very rare to find a solicitor that will offer a Sears Tooth Agreement.
So, what are your other options?
What Are My Other Legal Funding Options?
If you're not eligible or cannot find a solicitor who offers Sears Tooth Agreements, then there are other ways to fund your divorce.
- You could take out a bank loan or credit card.
- You could use savings, or ask family and friends for help.
- You could sell assets such as your <bloglink>home<bloglink> or car.
- You could see if you are <bloglink>eligible for legal aid<bloglink>, although this is only available in very limited circumstances.
- You could apply for <bloglink>maintenance pending suit<bloglink> or a <bloglink>legal services order.<bloglink>
- You could enter into a litigation funding agreement.
- You could <bloglink>consider mediation<bloglink>, which is a cheaper and often quicker way to resolve disputes between you and your ex-partner.
- Or you could represent yourself in court. However this is not advisable as divorce can be a complex legal process, and it is always best to have professional help. But, if you cannot afford a solicitor, then it may be the only option available to you.
There are pros and cons to all these options, so you should check out my <bloglink>in-depth divorce finding guide<bloglink> to learn more.
The divorce funding guide will also teach you about the little-known world of divorce funding loans, which are a specialist type of loan specifically designed to help people pay for their divorce.
Many solicitors are increasingly offering clients access to these specialist loans, rather than using a Sears Tooth Agreement.
Check out the guide to learn more:
Do I Have To Use A Sears Tooth Agreement If My Solicitor Offers One?
No, you are not obliged to use a Sears Tooth Agreement, and can choose another funding option instead if you prefer.
Are Sears Tooth Agreements Common?
No, they are actually quite rare now. This is because many solicitors are unwilling to take on the risk and costs associated with them. And many solicitors now offer to arrange specialist divorce funding instead.
Why Is It Called A "Sears Tooth Agreement"?
The term comes from a court case in the 1990s, when a firm called Sears Tooth first tried to use one of these agreements to fund their legal costs, and since then they have become known as Sears Tooth Agreements.
Is A Sears Tooth Agreement The Same As No-Win-No-Fee?
No, a Sears Tooth Agreement is not the same as No-Win-No-Fee (aka conditional fee agreements). With No Win No Fee you only have to pay your lawyer's fees if you win your case, whereas with a Sears Tooth Agreement you will have to pay regardless of the outcome.
And note, No-Win-No-Fee agreements are NOT allowed in family law cases, so, unfortunately, cannot help you with funding a divorce case.
Doesn't My Ex-Spouse Have To Pay My Legal Fees?
In divorce cases, the general rule that each side pays their own legal fees.
However, it's not uncommon for one spouse to try and make the other pay their legal fees, but this doesn't always happen.
If you want your ex-spouse to pay your fees, then you will need to make a formal application to the court, called a 'third party costs order'. The court will only make this order in very limited circumstances, such as where there has been <bloglink>domestic violence<bloglink> or one spouse has hidden assets.
If the court does make a third party costs order, then your ex-spouse will be liable for a percentage of your legal fees, but this is still likely to only cover a portion of the total cost.
So, even if you are successful in getting a third party costs order, you will still need to find another way to pay the rest of your legal fees.
A Sears Tooth Agreement is an arrangement between you and your solicitor which allows you to delay paying your legal fees until after your divorce is finalised.
Such an agreement can be beneficial as it means you do not have to pay upfront costs, and can instead use a sum of money from your divorce settlement to cover the fees.
However, it is important to be aware that not all solicitors offer Sears Tooth Agreements, and that such agreements are only available for divorce cases.