Q: How and why did you become a divorce lawyer and how long have you done it for?
A: I was privileged to experience a wide range of different areas of law during my legal training as a trainee solicitor. I undertook my final seat in 2000 which was in family law, and I have continued to practice family law ever since. I have a real interest in people and their lives. I want to help them through challenging times to find a better life and happiness. This appealed to me rather than working with corporate entities. I also preferred an area of law that was not just transactional but had a mix of court and non-court-based work. Although family law is a specialist area, it also requires knowledge in other areas of law such as land law, conveyancing, business, and tax which comes in handy when dealing with properties and family businesses. This variety was also appealing.
Q: Talk us through your average day
A: Another attraction is that there is never an average day. Quite often you will have appointments in your diary and other fixed appointments such as court hearings but a lot of what we do is quite unpredictable. You are there to service your client and be their trusted advisor so events may occur that are unpredictable or require urgent action. This means that time management is key.
Q: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you as a divorce lawyer?
A: I think the moments that have brought me most pleasure are those when you unexpectedly make a real difference to a client’s life. For example, I have acted for people where their partners have taken their children away and they are at a loss as to what to do. When you can reunite them and help them regain control of the situation you see in a short space of time what difference you can make. Another example I often see is when people are being pressurised to accept a financial settlement. They are eager to get out of a bad situation which can cloud their judgement and means that they are at risk of walking away with significantly less than their eventual entitlement. The difference between the 2 can be significant and life changing. In one case the difference ended up being around £15m.
Q: What’s the worst?
A: The gradual decline of the court service. Over the years, the availability of legal aid has declined significantly, and the courts have received less and less funding in real terms. This has resulted in the courts becoming clogged and not being able to function efficiently. This leads to frustration which is the last thing you want when you are in need of quick adjudication on sensitive issues. In recent times the pandemic has added to and not eased these problems. Now you are lucky if you can get to speak to someone at a court over the telephone, even after holding a considerable amount of time. Luckily in family law there are several alternatives even when adjudication is required. This has led to an increase in such things as private judging and arbitration.
Q: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
A: It is an occupational hazard that people often approach you when going through a difficult and sensitive period of their lives. Helping and supporting clients through these periods and seeing them come out the other end, having and seeing a brighter future is definitely the most enjoyable part of the job.
Q: What’s the most common misconception about your job?
A: Most people think that involving a lawyer will make things worse and inflame a difficult or acrimonious situation. If a lawyer is doing their job properly this should not be the case. Our job is not to inflame an already difficult situation but to deal with issues sensitively and constructively whilst protecting our client’s interests. I appreciate that it is not always possible to control how a party or their solicitor act which necessitates you having to deal with a situation in a particular way but the last thing a lawyer wants to do is to make a bad situation worse.
Q: What would happen if all divorce lawyers disappeared tomorrow?
A: Undoubtedly divorces will still happen. In terms of the actual divorce (the dissolution of any marriage) I can’t see that there would be a big problem. Since the removal of legal aid from most areas of family law there has been a significant increase in people representing themselves and a drive to make the procedure for a divorce more user friendly. The problem arises when dealing with the other aspects such as the resolution of the family finances and children. I think the removal of lawyers from the system in these areas would result in increased hostility, people not understanding their legal rights which would lead to a collapse of the courts and the court system. The impact of the removal of legal aid gave a hint of what could happen. This would lead to an unworkable judicial system, leaving individuals vulnerable, without any support, adequate protection, or redress.
Q: What advice would you give to yourself if you met yourself on your first day as a divorce lawyer?
A: You never will stop learning and you should never think that you know everything. Arrogance is a dangerous thing. It is true that experience is important, but the law constantly evolves as well as practice and procedure. It is important to be able to adapt to change. When you start working as a lawyer you are also keen to concentrate on the law and ensure that what you advise is correct, but this is only half the job. The manner you deliver such advice, support, and interact with clients is equally important, so interpersonal non legal skills are vital.
Q: What impact do you think ‘No fault divorces’ will have on lawyers and on divorcing couples?
A: I think that the new law of divorce will have little impact on lawyers. The dissolution of a marriage is a relatively straight forward procedure which has also been made easier by the courts operating an online platform. The more complex issues are resolving financial issues and child arrangements. The law in respect of these issues is not set to change.
For clients, the major difference that they will notice is the removal of blame from the process and that an application for divorce can be made on a joint basis.
The old system forced people to apportion blame for the breakdown of a marriage or wait 2 years. This meant that for those not wishing to apportion blame had to put their lives on hold for 2 years which was not at all satisfactory.
Quite often apportioning blame was considered as a means to an end but the divorce is one of the first issues to be addressed when parties separate. Pointing the finger in such circumstances, is not really starting out on the right foot particularly where there are other issues to be addressed such as the finances and arrangements in respect of children.
There may be those who want to apportion blame, but the legal reality is that the conduct of a party in relation to breakdown of a marriage is very rarely taken into account in financial matters and even in matters concerning children unless it impacts on their welfare moving forwards.
If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me quoting Ref CB289 on 020 7091 2869 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as at 30 March 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.