Gary Lineker has had some harsh words to say about divorce lawyers recently. He accuses “greedy” lawyers of trying to manipulate divorcing couples in order to generate fees.
His criticism could be applied to some family lawyers. However, in 23 years’ of practice I have come across very few. The vast majority of family lawyers do their very best to achieve a fair settlement for their clients, while keeping costs to a minimum.
However that’s not always possible. The fact is that people who are going through a divorce don’t always behave very well. Some people threaten or even use violence. Some try to hide their assets or lie, even under oath, about their finances. Some allow the children to be caught up in the divorce, even though they know in their heart of hearts that they risk damaging the children’s emotional well-being.
Family lawyers all see behaviour like this on a weekly, if not a daily, basis. Our job is not to endorse, much less encourage, behaviour like that. It is to help our clients to move past the hurt and anger and make a decent future for themselves and their children. If they can remain on good terms with their former spouse, then so much the better.
Most of my work involves negotiating financial settlements. So the bad behaviour I encounter most often involves hiding or moving assets. Clients are always advised at the start of financial negotiations that they will have to disclose all their assets. If they do that at an early stage by listing everything they have there is little work for either party’s solicitor to do, and costs are kept low. Even better if both parties listen to advice and agree on a sensible settlement without unnecessary “point scoring” or recriminations.
But if one party tries to cover up their assets it can lead to hours of work trawling through paperwork to find out what has happened to missing funds, and that’s what bumps up the costs.
Gary Lineker has suggested divorce settlements should be calculated using a mathematical formula. So far so good – but for that to work there needs to be full disclosure from both parties and often negotiating financial settlements is complex. And that’s only a starting point – people have different needs, hopes, wishes and expectations, all of which need to be given fair weight in the final settlement.
A good family lawyer will always try to strike a balance between trying to achieve a fair settlement for a client while at the same time managing their expectations and helping them to understand that:
- No one comes out of divorce feeling better off financially
- The role of the divorce court is not to “punish” their spouse financially
- It’s simply not possible to “take him for everything he’s got” – even if the lawyer wanted to do that, which most don’t
- The best outcomes are achieved when clients focus on what’s important and look to the longer term. Scrapping about who has the Doulton figures and the plasma TV is just not worth it, either financially or emotionally.
How can tell if your solicitor is one of Gary Lineker’s “greedy lawyers” or someone who will conscientiously try to do the best job for you? Three simple steps should help:
- Do your research – ask around locally to find out who has a good reputation and experience of dealing with similar cases.
- Check the website of “Resolution – First for Family Law”, most good family lawyers will be members.
- Arrange short introductory appointments with several local solicitors and ask them about the approach they take – any decent family lawyer won’t mind being “interviewed” by a prospective client.