Cheeky Chappy, Jack the Lad, potato crisp promoter and everybody’s best friend, BBC Sports presenter Gary Lineker has been making headlines recently and not just for his pledge to present Match of the Day in his underpants if Leicester City win the Premier League this season.
No, the Lineker-related news item that grabbed my attention was his comments about the cost of divorce. Earlier this year he and his wife divorced and it was, by all accounts, a rather straightforward, amicable process which did not cost the couple too much money. Nothing too remarkable there. It actually happens far more often than is generally appreciated.
But then, for no obvious reason, in a Radio Times interview, Mr Lineker claimed things may not have been so simple if lawyers had become involved. After all, “it’s very easy to get married and very difficult to get divorced”, he said, adding that “we know that lawyers try to manipulate it to make you spend more money and basically end up hating each other”.
We know that, do we?
Footballers aren’t generally famous for their brains and slagging off the entire family law profession seems to me just a little excessive, to put it mildly. A few years ago I headed up the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and came across about 5000 or so family lawyers, most of them legal aid practitioners. They had all met the rigorous standards required, but most of them I assume will have been decimated by the subsequent abolition of legal aid. Most people nowadays will never in fact have met an actual divorce lawyer. And they will be all the worse off for it. As Judges tell us in the strongest of terms, the courts are now clogged with people desperate for the services of a lawyer, queuing to get into court.
But the wealthier people can still afford divorce lawyers and take it from me, not every client is charitably disposed to their former spouse. There maybe many reasons why a wife is embittered but a husband playing away will usually be at the top of the list. As for a husband used to controlling the finances, suddenly in this situation he may find himself out of control. He can’t dictate the pace of the game any more now divorce proceedings have begun and worse, might find that his wife is now in charge of the negotiations. As divorce lawyers our job is to level the playing field, keep our clients in check and do our best – all while caught up in what might be a fire storm, especially if a lot of money is involved. I know nothing of Gary Lineker’s divorce and clearly won’t speculate about him or his motives for this astonishing attack, but I do know a lot about divorce, having been a lawyer for 36 years and …doesn’t time fly?
In the same interview, Mr Lineker also suggested that “there should be a mathematical equation that goes straight to the courts” to sort out. However, he did not elaborate. His comments were picked up across the media and when I read them, I wondered what formula could be universally applied to all divorces to make them fair? With thoughts of the Child Support Agency formulaic fiasco in mind and the billions it has cost the taxpayer so far, I was fascinated to know. Given the state of the courts right now I’d love to know which Judge would be happy to spend time applying a formula to each couple’s case. No names spring immediately to mind.
Furthermore I was a member of the Legal Advisory Group to the Law Commisssion which reported on potential changes to the law and considered the possibility of a formula. It has been met with considerable hostility, not least by Mr Justice Mostyn who said in one recent case of the Law Commission report:
“I agree with para 3.154 which states that “it would take a great deal of work to develop a formula generating a range of outcomes in each case.” I would go further and suggest that it may prove to be an impossible task, given the scale and scope of the individual variables…. The dismal story of the Child Support Act 1991 is all too telling, and that was only dealing with something as straightforward as child maintenance”
I tweeted Mr Lineker:
— Marilyn Stowe (@marilynstowe) April 26, 2016
However, I did not receive a reply.
What he did tweet was this:
To make it clear @DailyMailUK I was talking about the fact you can divorce online for about £400 and save a fortune, as did we. Nothing more
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 25, 2016
So as long as Gary’s okay, then it’s all right for him. Except it isn’t. There are hundreds of thousands of unrepresented people out there denied a lawyer, access to the law and knowledge of it. His comments were offensive and crass.
He owes us an apology.