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Let’s talk family law!

In the first instalment of a brand new series, Marilyn Stowe tackles the biggest news in UK family law this week. Topics include adultery in same-sex marriages, the grand finale of the epic Vince v Wyatt divorce, and Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption, unafraid to give an opinion.

We hope you enjoy the video. We welcome feedback, and if you any questions, please feel free to leave those below as well. Marilyn and the team will endeavour them to answer in upcoming episodes!

Video Transcript

Hello, welcome to the very first video of the Marilyn Stowe blog. I will explain to you first of all where I am. I am sitting in my office from where we run the whole of the Stowe Family Law offices across the country. This particular office actually used to be a courthouse in Victorian times and it remained a courthouse until 1991. This room that I am actually sitting in, my own personal office, used to be a lawyers’ waiting room and it used to be crammed full of mostly men and, on occasions, me when I was appearing in the courtroom to my right. When the judge used to say “Take him down…” to the prisoner, there is actually a back staircase all the way down to the cells which are at the bottom of this building but now of course they are no longer cells, they are cellars.

Anyway, what is the purpose of this video? Well, lots of things. First of all, we are one of the world’s best known and best read family law blogs and we have got to move with the times. I think that doing videos is the right way to go. I want it to be useful, so if you have got a problem and you would like me to answer it in a video, please leave the question in the foot of the page and I will do my best to include it. Lots of people do actually leave questions on the blog, all over it but there are thousands of posts now so it is no longer possible for me to just answer every single one. So I think that this is one way of doing it. I appreciate that there are a lot of people who need help and I am happy to do it.

The other thing is to sort of widen out what the blog does. We are going to be looking at lots of personalities in family law. Family law has lots of big, big personalities from Supreme Court judges downwards and we are going to be taking a look. One example of a ‘Supreme’ as they might be rather irreverently called is Lord Sumption who, last week, gave a speech to family lawyers. He is a ‘hot shot’ commercial lawyer who was rocketed into the Supreme Court direct from practice. In fact, direct from acting for Roman Abramovich, that was his last case for a reputed fee of £8 million. What does he have to say to family lawyers? We will find out.

Then we will be looking at cases, big case that hit the news and there are two in the news at the moment. The massive Saudi billionaire case where the wife is only seeking £250 million to meet what she says are her needs, will she get her million pounds for Couture clothing? Will she get money for her jewellery and her art and all of the houses that she wants to have and to be kept in? Well, the judge is going to have to decide whether he really is worth billions as she claims or millions plus a trust fund as he claims. The she is going to have to decide what the budget is. They are miles and miles apart so that is one that is going to keep running.

The other case is in the Supreme Court, Vince v Wyatt settled like a bit of a damp squib. That is in the news because the wife finally walked away with £300,000. She, you may remember, is the ex-wife, she was a very short wife actually in terms of time spent. They were married for only three years in the 80’s, they never bothered to get around to divorce until the 90’s and years late, he became a tycoon. A green energy tycoon and if you have got an electric car and you go to a garage and you want the car charging, it is his company that provides that electricity. So, she has walked away with £300,000, was it all worth it? We don’t know because we don’t know what the costs were; the judge didn’t make an order for costs to be disclosed. How much did she eventually walk away with, we don’t know. There is a no order law principle in English law for costs. You fight your case and you pay your own costs and that is something that everybody has got to be mindful about.

Finally, another case that hit the papers is about adultery. Would divorce be divorce without adultery, well it depends if you are gay or straight. If you are straight, you can divorce your partner on the basis of adultery, if you are gay, you can’t because the definition of adultery in English law requires a man and a woman. The wife of the gay guy who she said had an adulterous relationship is seeking a change in the law. The Sunday Mirror contacted me and said did I agree and I said “well, I do think the law should be changed but I actually think fault should be abolished and people should be forced to look backwards when they are getting divorced, instead look forward. Find for a no fault basis as they do have in America by consent.

So, that is all for today, I will be back soon and I hope you have enjoyed this short video.

Thank you.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Luke says:

    A good video Marilyn.
    You must be incredibly proud given its history that that building is now yours and your office is there – it is a mark of your great success 🙂

  2. JamesB says:

    At the end you said “That’s what they have in America by consent”. Please can you expand on what you meant by “by consent” as I don’t know their system so well. I thought the petitioner over there could get a no fault divorce without the consent of the other person, those two words suggest that if the respondent doesn’t consent then she has to accuse him (or vice versa or him v him or her v her) of something, is that the way it is please? I ask as I don’t know and I am interested, for no other reason.

    I would be guessing but it sounds like you get a “by consent” divorce unless you contest it, where you get divorced on dodgy indefensible grounds and waste money if you defend for no good reason as we have here, whereupon I say is it consent if there is a gun to the head? I suppose my question is do they have unilateral divorce on demand in America, as we do here, is it possible to defend a divorce in America? I thought New York was the last state where it was possible to defend a divorce but they abolished it now, so was confused by your by consent comment. I suppose it is just because they sign it rather than wait for a judge to sign it it is deemed consent, I don’t think that is real consent.

    Like ancillary relief orders by consent, if they are only signed as the alternative is worse then does that make them by consent, I don’t think so, it is more coerced then that. Although I do agree on the point you were making on the UK divorce process, without reform of the MCA 1973 there is no point as is a gold diggers charter as stands. Need reform for AR to be like Scotland at the same time to stop the farce or people behaving badly and raking it in on dodgy petitions on dodgy law and dodgy behaviour.

    Other than that point, well done and I am pleased to see you doing well and wish you well as you have a rare gift of listening to people, of adapting, and for communication and business and we need more of that in law and in this country.

  3. JamesB says:

    To spice things up. A similar line would be a woman consents to sex with someone if she goes along with it when the person is threatening her with a knife. I think that line of argument fails and I think it fails here. My case rests. You are talking about unilateral divorce on demand, not no fault divorce by consent. If we are going to ‘let’s talk’ then terminology and what is being said should be right and more precise and let’s call a spade a spade. None of this person’s at work nonsense and political correctness gone mad saying people agree when they most fundamentally do not. I mean, like I get a say in the F’d up divorce law of this country and agree to it because I didn’t defend my ex wife’s dodgy divorce petition doesn’t mean I agreed to it or agree to it. I didn’t and neither I suggest do most americans when faced with the same. To say they consent is well dodgy.

    With unilateral no fault divorce on demand as we effectively have in both the US and UK it takes two people to make a marriage but one to break it to claim otherwise is wrong.

    A more interesting question is if the state should force people to remain married. I think probably not and given the impossibility of allocating fault on divorce and how there is usually not enough money to go around we need reform to be like the Scottish model please.

  4. JamesB says:

    Actually, thinking about it, I think you might be right. If you both enter into a marriage when there is no fault divorce and one party can end it, then you are consenting to divorce, by the other party if you do not agree so I take back what I said.

    The difference of course is that in America you can write the marriage contract and pre nup and terms to be fair which you cannot do here. In which case you consent. In this country we don’t have consent as most people don’t have a say or think the divorce settlements are fair.

    You can only have consent when there fair law and representation. Like some Frenchman having a go at me for the Iraq war or the dodgy ancillary relief laws in this country, I have fought as much as I can and know how with MPS etc on both so saying I consented to them and they are done in my name kind of pisses me off. Technically you may be right, but technically talking like that is killing the institution, like bad unrepresentative political decisions kill democracy.

    Still, I think you are right and we should have no fault divorce, and the americans do have this with consent, just to have that we also need to make the law fairer else you kill the institution of marriage as the risks are so great for many and that would not be good. We need inexpensive enforceable prenups and fairer ancillary relief law like in Scotland.

    So, there you go, me changing my mind, what you said was right, well, technically, it is consent in the US. Should we have that here, yes, I think we should I agree with you. Should lawyers be cheaper, I rather think they should. Should divorce and marriage be easy yes. Should financial and child settlements be by formula or pre defined in enforceable prenups yes I think so.

    I don’t disagree with any of what you say, its just your lack of acceptance that MCA 1973 needs to change that I find unpalatable as without reform of that the whole law in this area is unworkable and less people will get married under it and more will avoid it or use Sharia etc. and that would be a shame.

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