Gary Lineker’s comments about the divorce law in this country in the Radio Times this week (30 April – 6 May) have generated headlines.
He said –
“Just generally speaking, it’s very easy to get married and very difficult to get divorced. And we know that lawyers try to manipulate it to make you spend more money and basically end up hating each other.”
“I think there should be a mathematical equation that goes straight to the courts and they sort it out.”
To be clear (and some headlines this week were not) he wasn’t talking about his own divorce from Danielle Bux – the Telegraph explains this week that the couple used a “government website to formalise their split” and the two were at pains to point out on twitter after their split that they remain great friends (@garylineker and @daniellebux – 13 Jan 2016).
As a divorce lawyer I accept that there are obvious flaws in the divorce system. Essentially there are two aspects to a divorce – the ending of the legal contract of marriage and the division of finances (usually with an ultimate clean break). As regards the former – we do not have no-fault divorce unless a couple have been living apart for at least 2 years. This means many couples are obliged to allege that the other has behaved unreasonably or committed adultery. This is the fault of the system and not the lawyers. Those of us who take pride in assisting couples to reach agreements via constructive negotiations or mediation are as frustrated by this as our clients.
With regard to the financial side of things, Gary is not the first to suggest a mathematical formula. In February 2014, the Law Commission published a report entitled “Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements”. The report highlights that, where a couple cannot agree matters between them, the courts have a very wide discretion in deciding how their property and income should be divided. This inevitably results in a degree of inconsistency across regional courts and can make it hard for a couple to reach an agreement about what is an appropriate settlement (and hard for the lawyers to advise as the decision will, to a certain extent, depend upon the judge on the day). The Law Commission recommended an investigation as to whether an aid to calculation of “financial needs” could be devised. “We envisage that formulae, if developed, would take the form of non-statutory guidance and would give a range of outcomes, in figures, within which the separating couple might negotiate.”
Whilst I agree that the system could be improved, I am disappointed with Gary Lineker’s assertion that lawyers just want to get as much money as possible out of their clients whether they end up hating one another or not. Most family lawyers in this country are members of the organisation, Resolution, and as such adhere to a code of conduct that has a constructive and non-confrontation approach at its core and puts the needs of children above all else. Some of us have qualified both as lawyers and as mediators because we are passionate about assisting couples to reach agreement in the most effective, cost-effective and forward-looking way.
I accept however that there may be lawyers out there who are not of the same mould and, indeed, perhaps Gary Lineker, or someone he knows, has had their fingers burnt.
Things to be done to mitigate costs and hostility:
1. Each get legal advice at an early stage – this does not set you on an unalterable course towards court and will help you understand the parameters within which to negotiate.
2. Choose your solicitor wisely – look for specialist accreditations and a solicitor with an holistic approach who will be able to involve other professionals where appropriate.
3. Do as much as you can yourself – for example, consider preparing and sending your petition for divorce to the court yourself, exchange financial disclosure with your spouse direct, see if you can settle on agreement terms between you.
4. Ensure you see a solicitor to “make it legal” – if you do not get a formal consent order sealed by the court, you will not have a financial “clean break”, which means your spouse could make financial claims against you in the future.
Image by Roderick Eime under a creative commons licence (cropped)