Why, Franca Ciambella, Dee Dharishinie and Consilium Law Singapore, in my opinion, are working a very nasty scam that plays on women at the most vulnerable time in their lives.
Firsthand accounts of Intimidation, bullying, manipulation and other practices carried out by Franca Ciambella and her team. Here is my story, but as you can see from others posts, this is common practice from a woman and her team out to defraud, manipulate and earn whatever they can, at any cost, from people at such a stressful time.
I guess this is hurting Franca and her scamming plans as I have had a number of people ask for their comments to be retracted – clearly under direct threat of legal action by Franca Ciambella.
My partner and I had the unfortunate need for a lawyer when we decided to divorce. I had seen Consilium Law Corporation advertised in Expat Living magazine in Singapore and read an article about them and their approach to divorce. Not having had any reason to use a lawyer in Singapore or knowing anyone who had done so, I went along to meet Franca Ciambella and her assistant Dee Dharishinie. I explained the situation to them; they were very understanding and assured me that they would do the best job for me and how, by using them, I could be assured of a complete service. The cost was quoted at a fixed price of S$6,000.
My partner came with me for the second meeting and this is where things started to come apart.
My partner had done some research and found that the cost being quoted was extremely high for a divorce. Having done some research and written to several companies, he found that at most, the cost should be around S$3,000. He asked Franca Ciambella about this and things immediately began to get heated. She spoke to my partner in an extremely condescending manner, as though talking to a small child using a voice that is only ever seen in Walt Disney cartoons from the 1940’s. My partner asked if Franca Ciambella thought she was talking to someone who was 8 years old, she ignored this and carried on using the voice, standing up, leaning over and putting her face very close to his. Having dismissed the cost as very reasonable and claiming that others could just not do the job for the prices quoted, Franca Ciambella went on to confirm that this was a fixed price, all in, no extra cost.
My partner went onto to ask why we should divorce under Singapore law in Singapore rather than UK law. He explained that we were British Passport holders, born in Britain, married in Britain and, although resident in Singapore we were still British Domiciled – surely we should divorce in the country we were born and married in. Franca Ciambella became very agitated at this, claiming we were not domiciled in the UK (clearly not understanding law of domicility) and that Singapore was by far the best place to get a divorce. My partner re-iterated the concerns about cost and place of divorce on several occasions, all were dismissed.
With all this going on, I was becoming very upset. Franca Ciambella seemed determined to make my partner angry and unfortunately this happened as she became more and more of a bully, ignoring questions and getting louder. She then suggested I go to another room with her assistant Dee Dharishinie so she could talk to my partner without me getting further upset.
Again my partner bought up the high cost being quoted, Franca Ciambella assured him that this was the fixed, total, no extras cost and that there would “probably be money left over as clearly we had very little in the way of assets and this would be a simple divorce” especially as my partner was not going to contest the divorce and so there would be no need for a second lawyer and correspondence between them. Franca Ciambella assured my partner that the divorce would take 3 months so he asked if we could pay in installments so as to ease the cost as what would obviously be a difficult time. Franca Ciambella assured my partner that this would be fine, and that when I met her again the following week she would accept a payment of 1/3 of the cost. She even confirmed “the money goes into a trust so we don’t actually need it until the divorce is finalized”
Then she left the room and came to see me.
She told me that my partner had agreed to everything and that there would be no need to see him again as the divorce would be uncontested. She assured me that the cost was fixed, all in, no extras and a very good deal indeed.
The meeting ended and we both left.
Once outside may partner was beside himself, he could not believe how he had been treated and I must say, I was very upset by the whole experience. We talked about the money and he said she had told him the payments could be made over the 3 months and the reasons why. I told him she had made no mention of this to me but I would see what happened at the next meeting.
At the next meeting she demanded full payment from me. I text my husband (who was downstairs) this information. This went completely against what had been agreed by Franca Ciambella with him. He tried to come to the office but she physically barred him from entering. I wanted to see him, to talk about this payment but she refused to let him in and asked her secretary to call the police. Quite unbelievable behaviour from a “lawyer”, not allowing a husband and wife to talk about something. I wrote a cheque for the full payment and left in tears.
Over the coming days I was bombarded with emails. There were forms to complete, lists to write and a story to put together. The emails kept coming in waves as I sent them back and corrections were made. There were a large number of mistakes, everything from our names being wrong (completely wrong) to the date of our marriage. One several occasions I corrected the mistakes only for them to be sent back to me on subsequent emails. This went on for about a month. During this time I asked for an itemised bill of the costs, I wanted to know how the money was being spent and, as I have a background in accounting I was interested to know what they where charging. I received a “note” that said they had worked a number of hours, none of which was recorded or itemised.
My husband was requested at their office one day to sign a paper in front of a notary. He was taken by the secretary Marla upstairs to another office where a notary witnessed his signature. He offered to pay the notary the S$20 fee but was told clearly by Marlie that the fee would be paid by the office as it was part of the costs for the divorce. He put his money away as Marla leaned over and made sure the payment was taken from her and the invoice collected.
Then, on the morning of my 50th birthday, I received a call from Franca Ciambella. “I need more money,” she said. She went onto explain the divorce was costing far more than she had estimated and that due to the list of our assets she needed more money to finish things. (As I have said, we had no assets, just some furniture). I told her that she had told us the cost was fixed, all in, no extras and that there would be money left over. She denied this flatly. She demanded another S$4,000. I said, if she looked at the list of assets she would see that I don’t have S$4,000 and neither does my husband. “Crap” she said, “you must be hiding it from me”! I was astounded and extremely upset. She could tell she had upset me and started calling me “Natalie”, (I should point out that this is not my name). “Who”? I said, “Natalie” she said again, “My name isn’t Natalie” I said, “oh no, sorry,” she said, and used my real name. I again reiterated that I didn’t have any money, I wanted an itemised bill of exactly where the funds had gone to and that this had already been requested on several occasions. Franca Ciambella said she would get me an itemised bill showing where everything had gone. The call ended.
After this there were many calls to my phone from their office, none of which I answered. The call had left me shaken, upset and sick to my stomach. The overtone of Franca Ciambella was threatening, abusive and that of a bully. I wrote an email again requesting details of how my money had been spent, and eventually received a “statement” that made no sense at all. During this exchange of emails she discharged herself as my lawyer. Several more emails were sent to me from Dee Dharishinie demanding money, and threatening me with various reasons as to why I would be paying them: Distraught, I wrote the following to her:
Quite frankly I am amazed, frightened and extremely upset at the way I have been treated at this stressful time, I find your tactics and communications to be upsetting, unprofessional and designed to hurt, panic and upset me. The constant stream of threatening emails right near to the end of this process have become too much for me to bear.
On looking through your previous correspondence, I can see that there are many hours booked for work that I did. I spent many hours finalising, correcting and re-correcting many mistakes made on several occasions, all of which I seem to be paying for when, in fact, I did the work.
The (un-itemised) draft invoice for May sent to me on the 30th May would suggest that the April hours incurred (albeit not invoiced for $4,750) would be 11.309523 hours, not 15.5 as stated in the next list as included in your email of 4th June 2012. I still do not have a fully itemised bill of hours worked for me, with costs and have only received the ones offered after repeated requests.
Your comment regarding the statements that you are being “very honest in giving me a breakdown of the time incurred” is quite frankly absurd – isn’t hour by hour itemised billing the right of every client When we met, you made it very clear that you would be able to complete this divorce for no more than $6,000. You were very aware that I had no more money than that and upon your meeting my husband made it clear again that this was the absolute maximum the divorce would cost, and in fact it would possibly be less, at no point did you mention that the assets (of which you were given full details of on the 5th April 2012) would increase the cost of the divorce, neither at any point did you furnish me with a breakdown of costs incurred when the $6,000 had been exhausted or advise me to exclude the somewhat meagre assets, etc. to keep costs at a minimum.
My husband made a substantial amount of enquiries about the cost of divorce prior to meeting with you and told you, in the meeting that he could get it for less. You insisted $6,000 was the most it would cost us.You have details of my finances; it will be clear to you that I do not have any more money and I was in fact hoping to see some money returned to me as this divorce was simple, agreed and with little in the way of assets.
You have left me with no direction or understanding of the way forward and now that you have discharged yourself as my lawyer, I am extremely upset at the service I have received and the way I have been treated. With regard to your email about my partner and Marla; He took $50 from his wallet, and told Marla that he understood he had to pay the commissioner. Marla insisted on paying and held out her $50 to make sure it was taken rather than His. He finds your accusations amazing and incorrect.
My reluctance to meet with Franca last week was born out of fear following the phone call to me on my 50th Birthday demanding money, calling me by someone else’s name and the general overtone of the conversation. That fear is still there due to the harassing nature of the emails and attempted phone calls to me since.
In my email of 31st May, I requested an explanation of the Notice to Act in Person, of which appears to have been ignored – further to that I wasn’t aware I was being asked for a reply regards the representing myself moving forward! I understood from Franca’s email that everything had been prepared and that nothing else had to be done, I wasn’t aware I was being given a choice as to discharge you as my lawyers as she had said in her email of 31st May 2012 and I quote “As all of the documents have been prepared, filed and approved by the court , we would like to discharge ourselves as your lawyers.” I accepted this as you had relinquished your position to act on my behalf.
Dee Dharishinie responded with a simple email asking for $20 and that I collect my papers. I had to collect my paperwork from the office as I now had no lawyer. She wouldn’t let my husband collect it, she insisted on seeing me. As I said in my email, I was scared and upset, Franca Ciambella had put fear into me, an absurd situation for a 50 year old woman to be in. I decided to take a friend with me to collect the papers. The meeting was outrageous.
Franca Ciambella didn’t ask who my friend was (she could have been another lawyer, police, anyone – I wish she had have been) Franca Ciambella sat us both down in her office. I asked for my papers and she quite literally launched at me. She stood over me, shouting as if talking to a naughty child. She told me that I should be thankful for what she had done for me, that I should be appreciative of her hard work on the case and that she had done everything for me and in return for nothing. My friend was dumbstruck. Franca Ciambella turned on her and told her how I had been unappreciative of her work and that I didn’t deserve to have had her as my lawyer. She finally allowed us to leave and gave me the papers – my husbands first name was wrong on the envelope…!
Consilium Law had done nothing at all with any of the paperwork, forms or information I had given them. On the day she had called and demanded more money they had registered the divorce proceedings with the courts, one piece of paper, nothing more and this turned out to be completely wrong, as the names and dates were incorrect.
My husband and I did the divorce ourselves. It took us 3 months to go through the system with the Singapore courts and we were here helped at every stage by some wonderful people with the form filling and filing. I would urge anyone who needs to divorce in Singapore to use the system, talk to each other and stay away from the lawyers. And whatever you do, keep very clear of Franca Ciambella, Dee Dharishinie and Consilium Law Singapore, in my opinion, they are working a very nasty scam that plays on women at the most vulnerable time in their lives.