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Client abruptly closed contract + potential dispute questions

As the title says, I recently was hired for a job regarding graphic design (of shirts and other apparel) for a clothing brand. Everything went fine and the client (other than being pretty indecisive on what he wanted) was happy with what I showed him every time.


To give more info about my client, he was pretty unresponsive in general and during our meetings he always gave me short answers (except that one time I demanded actual in-depth feedback of what he didn't like), because he was constantly contacting me from his phone and sending random photos of shirts; I guess he didn't feel like spending more than 3 words total on 10 designs, because that's what I got each time.




With that said, I told him that we already completed the first milestone, as it was named "Need a couple design for brand" for 50$...but it being really really vague and the total budget being 150$ (without considering that all the designs I did, plus revisions for 50$ is ridicolous, especially considering the work that went into some of them and the hours spent for them) I brought it up with him.


We decided to treat that first milestone as the "sketch" and initial draft part in the end...so he issued a new milestone for the remaining 100 named "Final drafts" (even thou something like 20 for that and 80 for the actual files would have been better).

I'm a transparent person thou, so I wouldn't like, "run" after the Final Draft pay, I even wrote to him about this thing and that I'd send in the files if he gave me the "ok" for those final drafts.



This was the 27th of October and I didn't receive any mails or messages until then. Today I went and checked my contracts and to my big surprise, my client asked for a Return of the 100$ Escrow Funds without having paid the milestone (but still took the final drafts obviously) and closed the contract.

I didn't receive any mails from Upwork regarding the contract being closed, nor about this thing; This was the 31st of October.


So now I tried to contact back my client and tried explaining him how a dispute would be costly for both sides, asking why he filed a return/refund for that milestone and how we could try and solve the thing in-between us...but I didn't receive any answer, nor I expect to since before the ending of the contract and all that, I didn't receive a single message from him. Plus when I sent him this message, he went online for a good 4 min and then went back offline.


Now, this never happened to me, so I'm kinda curious on how to act in this situation:

I worked on plenty of designs and always ALWAYS provided extra stuff in the form of mockups and additional designs other than the regular revisions on the ones he liked (since he was so full of ideas that he proposed new ideas at each and every meeting we had, until I told him, on the final draft release, that future additional revisions/designs would cost him an extra).


I worked with the time tracker app; Always had 8-9-10 activity levels on my "neatly-named" screenshots...but I don't think this matters much if I have to pay for the middle-man in a potential dispute: It's not worth it for me because all I got from this project is 50$, right?

What should I do? How would you act? I know the easy answer is probably "Just let him go and leave the 100$", but 100$ are actually a big deal for me, and it kinda sucks that I spent way more hours of work than the 50$ I got.




Plus the fact that I'd have to "stalk" my client in some way to make sure those shirts are not sold anywhere, since I watermarked both my mockups and the designs themselves. My watermarks are pretty tame and un-intrusive so that they don't steal much from the actual design...but I fear he's gonna use them regardless; For me, anything with my watermark on, is still my property...paid or not. If I give you the files and the un-watermarked stuff then you're good to go. Am I being unreasonable here?

What's the rundown of a standard dispute usually? Do you have to pay upfront or does someone first try to do the "middleman" and bring the client and the freelancer in some kind of chat room so they can discuss?


I'm not going to read your whole story - but just want to suggest that you learn not to do any work unless the first milestone is fully-funded at the stated budget or whatever your bid amount was.

May I suggest you to give it atleast a quick read before posting then? I address many things in there other than your usual panic-rant that you might find on the forums: I didn't write all that just to train my typing speed or stuff like that ^^


Altough I didn't fully explain that, so you're partially right: The budget was fully funded and in Escrow...that's why he's asking for a Return of Escrow Funds.


About not doing work until a milestone is funded, I am 100% with you.

Sorry, but it is a very long story. Can you just ask the actual question that you want to be answered? 



"It's not worth it for me because all I got from this project is 50$, right?"


"What should I do? How would you act?"


"Am I being unreasonable here?"


"What's the rundown of a standard dispute usually? Do you have to pay upfront or does someone first try to do the "middleman" and bring the client and the freelancer in some kind of chat room so they can discuss?"


Those are the sentences in which I used the question mark. Didn't take much longer than 30 seconds to Ctrl + F to find 'em, except you cannot really answer those "questions" without having context (other than the dispute rundown one).


Good luck, I guess?


I know I might not be the best at writing a good and thrilling story (since this is not the case), nor I'm the best at summarizing "events"...but I don't see the issue in reading something for the purpose of answering a forum post unless the post itself is written in broken english or something completely unreadable (no punctuation, etc).

You don't wanna read it? Then it's ok if you don't answer. If you couldn't be bothered to read through the whole post to find the questions themselves, I cannot really expect a good and in-depth answer, can I?


Sorry if it comes off in the wrong way, I appreciate you for tuning in...but I'm afraid you'll have to read the post to properly answer my "questions" and understand the situation I'm in ^^

No, I understand where you're coming from. You are in the story so it's meaningful for you. Disputes are never fun, but only you can answer your questions. 


One thing you learn from them is to approach everything as if it could turn into a dispute, so you back up everything and get very specific in what you say to people. 


Go through messages and see if you can poke holes in anything they've said. Ask yourself what you think would be worth it to just drop it and settle for whatever amount. For $100, you should be able to get all of it, because arbitration is 291.


 eta: just saw your second post. First is dispute and attempt at a settlement, then it's arbitration if no one agrees.


I'm not beta, so I just told the dispute person x amount or it's arbitration. Saves time. The guy accepted and I got paid. The whole thing lasted maybe a week, because it's 5 days wait and then 3 days in between the dipute person's conversation with the two of you.


eta2: just a note: I thought I had a really good argument too from the conversations. I think the person hiring me asked for a blog post but was looking for a white paper, so he asked for the wrong thing and then ripped it to shreds. That was my argument if it had gone to arbitration and it was in the message center. That's what I was going with had it gone that way, so that's why I say go through his messages and see if you can poke holes.

I skimmed it. It's not a rant but it is the usual. Client wants money back and you don't know why but it's only $100 milestone. Always get full upfront escrow unless you can legit break things down into milestones and still be worth your time. 


If you contacted him and he's ignoring you, then you only have a certain amount of time to dispute, so make your decision and do it or not. 


I would really love to know if "doesn't like it" would be ground for refund in arbitration. My arbitration was kinda easy because the guy lied and made it easy for the arbiter to decide cuz he caught him lying.

Thanks for summarizing it so nicely. As I said in my previous post, I'm not the best at that kind of stuff...thanks a lot once again, as it seems to be a big deal for many people here.


About the limited time thing, I checked it beforehand and that's why I panicked a bit, including the bit talking about Upwork not contacting me about the contract itself being closed nor the Return of Escrow Funds request that the client filed. I now only have 4 days to decide what to do, which is not that much indeed.


Do you, by chance, know how the dispute process works and when you actually have to pay money? Do you have to pay money even if someone, maybe from Upwork, goes and says the Freelancer (or Client) is in the right? Because I feel like I have more than enough "proof" to prove my work and that I worked x-hours, delivering x-job that the client seemed to like (judging by his messages).


Right now I have 2 options:

1) I approve returning the remaining funds in escrow to the client

2) I do not approve this request and want to file a dispute


As it is right now, I'm more keen on the 2nd option, but what does that entail? Will I have to pay the huge sum for a middleman prior to the dispute itself? Or will someone try and "solve" the whole thing before the actual dispute? (Like contacting the client itself, reviewing the chat messages and how the contract processed...stuff like that).



Edit: Thanks for your answers, Jennifer. I'll definitely go for a dispute then, as I feel like I have a pretty strong argument by my side. What bothers me is that for his "incompetence" (or lazyness), he might have some kind of defence in the dispute as the first milestone he issued was named "Need a couple design for brand", which could be anything really (which is why i think he tried to run away with that); But the messages in chat show all the proof I need I feel.

Did the middleman actually help during the dispute/agreement phase? Did he say anything to try and reason with the client? I feel like my position is more defendable if there's actual interest from the 3rd party to actually interact with both sides.

Hi Davide,


I'm pretty sure this is how the dispute process works, but I've never been through it myself. In your case, you refuse to release client funds (don't dally on this since you only have a limited time) and then an Upwork employee gets involved. They give your contract and messages a once over and suggest a resolution. From what I hear, that resolution is usually along the lines of a 50/50 split of the remaining funds between you or the client.


If either you or the client refuse to accept the resolution, then it goes to arbitration. The arbiter is a third party not employed by Upwork. Here's where it gets interesting. Arbitration costs EACH party (you, the client, and Upwork) $291. The possible outcomes are:


You agree to pay. Client doesn't. You win automatically as well as keep your $291 fee.


You decline to pay. Client pays. Client wins.


I don't know what happens if you both decline.


So, it's kind of a game of poker. Since the amount you're owed is well under $300, you may be able to call your client's bluff.

Thanks for the info...but I'm not one who likes to play with money, nor I wanna risk my luck in "calling his bluff" or something like that.

I have very strong "feelings" towards my argument and I feel like an arbiter would probably side with me, as there's plenty of proof in the chat messages and how the contract was handled by both sides to probably win an hypotetic case. But when that much money is on the line (291$ is a lot), and considering it is all for a small-ish contract of 150$ total...you start asking yourself if it's really worth the heartache.

Just filed the dispute and I had to leave feedback to my client: Turns out he gave me 4 stars an a lil' bit + no written feedback. Pretty cool huh?


Hopefully we won't have to go to arbitration phase...but even if it does, and considering he didn't wanna pay for a completed 100$ milestone, I doubt he'll dish out 291 for arbitration.

If its a hourly contract a dispute should go to you if the time tracker was running , that should be a no-brainer and shouldn't require arbitration.

Make sure you pay it first then. I don't know what happens when both decline to pay but I wager there is a good possibility that the money goes back to the customer. If the money goes to the person who raised the dispute, then that's an excellent advantage of being the one who declines a refund.

Ok so, I don't know if that's alright to share publicly, so I wont write the exact words that I read a couple of minutes ago.


A reminder, he didn't respond to me via chat when I told him about the whole dispute thing etc. nor when I sent the files; I then filed the dispute and he answered the dispute may I say in a very...VERY childish way, saying that my stuff sucked and that I got paid for what I did etc etc, basically negating all he said in chat to me during the course of this contract.

He even mistyped a lot of stuff, no punctuation and used "Lol" to start a sentence. How is that acceptable?!


I hope Upwork sides with me. I want that unprofessional d-bag out of my life as quick as possible!

I would pay to have access to dispute rooms. They are always so entertaining. I know mine are.


He can't unilaterally decide what can be paid on a contract. Upwork won't do anything except ask you if you'll accept a settlement, so decide what you'll take and your thresshold before it goes to arbitration. Maybe that's the whole amount. For 100 that's what it would be for me.

It's not really clear what I'm supposed to do in the dispute room. I sent my big wall of text explaining in-depth my issue and how things went down (easily checked on the chatroom, which I'm now screencapping in case he decides to edit out or delete some messages);

Am I supposed to answer him after what he wrote? I don't feel like he deserves an answer to be fair. I have the option to "Resolve a dispute" and choose an amount of money (even thou the dispute shows  "Disputed amount: $100.00", and " Reason for dispute: Completed milestone to requirements, Client unresponsive, Client requirements unclear" in addition to the wall of text.


What happens if I choose the "Resolve the Dispute" option? Is that basically saying "I won't accept any agreement at less than 100$"?

nah I'm not really sure what it's there for. Maybe they figure people will work it out before the dispute person gets there? idk


You have to answer the dispute person within 3 days. He comes around in 5 business days.

At the end of my reasoning and whole "explanation" wall of text, I put these words: "I feel like I deserve those 100$ as I did my job and communicated properly with him, and after I get the money and his "ok" on said Final Drafts, I'll be more than happy to share the files with him. But right now I fear like he'll use the designs anyways (even if they're watermarked) or hire someone else to copy them for cheap."


I can assure you the whole paragraph about the situation etc explains other concerns I have other than my client using those designs inappropriately: like him being happy with multiple designs, and now invalidating everything by saying that they "sucked" or how poorly he communicated during the whole contract, changing idea every time and asking for new stuff;

I did all that he requested, indulged as much as I could to the additional designs and "Oh I also want this" "...and that" etc...until I sent him the "Final Drafts" files by telling him that if he wanted additional stuff other than the ones he liked that I fixed for him (which were 15 image-files with 13 designs by the way) he'd have to pay extra.


What am I supposed to answer him?


"Give me my money you unprofessional dingo"? - Getting to his level of banter.


I'll probably re-affirm what I'm asking for and don't give in to anger (atleast try to) by answering like that. But I seriously hope that Upwork steps in this time and acknowledges the client's poor behaviour.




"You have to answer the dispute person within 3 days. He comes around in 5 business days."

Does this mean that I have to answer him no matter what he wrote in the dispute room?

Yep, he'll ask for files and your story. I don't know what that room is for because it seems to me it's just a place for everyone to slam each other. 


So yeah, he'll ask you for your story and then the customers and he'll ask you for what you'll settle for, so that's why I'm saying decide your threshold, what you want, and should it go to arbitration, read through what he said and get ready to make your argument.


All that stuff in the room is useless. Who cares what he says. I'm sure the arbiter has access to it so let him look like a moron. I'm sure with such a small amount of money though you'll both come to an agreement.

My story is already in the dispute room I think, since while filing the dispute it asked me to "Describe in-depth what was my dispute about" (not the client, the platform).

Well, I hope that both the arbiter and the Upwork staff member has access to it (It seems pretty obvious but you never know with Upwork, heh).


I guess I'll just wait for the Upwork guy to contact me then, right? Thanks for all your support by the way; Those things take you by surprise and most people react pretty impulsively but I feel like this time something had to be done.

Yep, just wait for the dispute guy. He'll ask you for your story too. Disputes suck, so good luck. 🙂 Just stick to your guns. It's pretty easy when you're telling the truth, albeit still stressful and sucky cuz you just want to be paid for the time you spent.


Arbitration is different. Arbitration is like an online court proceding. You'll have to tell your story again and there is a lot of back and forth. The arbiter will ask questions after you tell your story, then you both have the option of replying to the comments made by the other person. Then the arbiter will look at everything and make his decision. There are 3-4 rounds of questioning I think.


I still have the verdict from the arbiter saved. Felt really good cuz he blasted my client for not only lying but he could also see that the guy was being difficult to be difficult. That's why I say let him look like a douche because all of this matters to a third party who has no clue what happened except from what you say and the message center.