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Divorce: through the eyes of a lawyer

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With new BBC series, ‘The Split’, following a group of (fictional!) London divorce lawyers, we asked some of our divorce and separation specialists about life as a lawyer, how realistic the series is and the impact of how divorce is portrayed in the media.

What is life like as a divorce lawyer in Essex, is it as glamorous or exciting as what we see on TV? 

Fran Cozens: I think that life as a divorce lawyer in Essex is definitely exciting; no two days are ever the same. Our work is extremely interesting and challenging. We have a great client base in Essex including entrepreneurs, those with family businesses, city workers and stay at home parents. On the television there is a focus on court room battles, but most cases are now dealt with in much more civilised ways. For example, I am trained as a Collaborative Lawyer which means that the lawyers and the clients sign an agreement not to go to court but will all work together to achieve an outcome that works for that individual family. This enables a bespoke agreement, driven by the needs of the individual family to be agreed, in a timescale that suits them. This is a brilliant alternative to court for many couples. They maintain control over the process and decide the outcome for their family, rather than a judge determining an outcome on their behalf.

Philip Hoddell: I have to agree. I wouldn’t describe it as glamorous, although it can certainly be exciting. Behind the scenes there is a lot of detailed analysis, hard work and strategic planning, which you don’t really see on TV.

What is the relationship like that you build with clients?  

Philip: Trust is the most important aspect of our relationship. Clients entrust us with their secrets, their emotions and their futures. Our job is to look after all of them to the very best of our ability.

Fran: I think that it is essential to build a good rapport with clients. As Philip says, they share extremely personal and sensitive information with me. They need to know that they can tell me anything and will not be judged. I am here to support, guide and advise. I try to throw some humour in as well - they are on a journey and my role is to help them move into the next chapter of their lives as smoothly and comfortably as possible. 

Why do people in Essex get divorced? 

Philip: Most people get divorced because they stop talking to one another! This then leads to all sorts of other problems, and sometimes to the breakdown of the marriage. It all starts with communication though.

Fran: Yes I agree, people get divorced for many reasons. Marriage can be hard. Communication, or lack of communication, seems to rate highly. 

What impact does social media have on modern divorces? 

Philip: Social media can be a very useful way of clients keeping track of what their spouse is up to! Many people like to publish their new relationships, holidays, or even jobs, and sometimes they can be more willing to tell the world than the divorce court! 

Fran: I don’t think that social media is helpful in modern divorces. A particular site has been mentioned on many divorce petitions as it enabled people to get back in touch with people that they had not seen for years! This was not something that previously people could easily do. Sometimes people also have a misunderstanding about whether the information is private and who can see what may be posted. It can be hurtful and upsetting if an ex-partner writes something in anger that is then fed back. This can make difficult relations between couples even harder.

Some divorces get a lot of media attention. What impact do these cases have on us, here in Essex? 

Philip: Quite a lot of the legal principles used in some of the higher profile cases are just as applicable to the divorces that we are involved in. The facts may be less sensational to the public, but can be equally challenging to deal with.

Yolande Millar: I think generally most people are interested in media attention in relation to divorces, especially if it is a high profile couple. There is a real curiosity to see inside the private lives of celebrities and it can, I suppose, make divorcing couples feel reassured that, even in high wealth cases, life is not always rosy. Some of these cases highlight more case law, which is always interesting from a lawyer’s perspective. 

Given all your experience of divorce, what’s your view of marriage? 

Philip: I’m very much in favour of it. Evidence shows that marriage remains the most stable form of relationship, particularly for raising children (even if the divorce rate is quite high). On a personal level, I’ve just celebrated my silver wedding anniversary, so I suppose that’s bound to make me a fan.

Yolande: I have been luckily happily married for over thirty years and do support the institution of marriage. That having been said I do not believe that couples should stay together for the sake of the children or because of the financial implication if they are unhappy. Life is just too short. I do appreciate that the experience of divorcing affects people differently; for some it can be enlightening and others completely devastating.

What general advice can you offer someone thinking about getting a divorce? 

Yolande: It might be a bit cliché, but always get independent legal advice so that you have as much information as you can about the process, timescales and the involvement of the court, as well as the implication to you, your family and finances. Where possible, keep an open dialogue and be as amicable as possible. This is not always easy for some divorcing couples, however it does assist with the process being smoother and potentially speedier.

Philip: I can’t agree enough! Getting proper advice from a specialist divorce lawyer is key. It’s really important to find out about what you will need to deal with, and how we can help you find good solutions to the problems which arise. Friends and relatives are there for support – solicitors are there to advise!

If you need advice about separating or divorcing, please contact one of divorce and separation team on 01206 217320.