By Ayesha Vardag, President of London family law firm Vardags
The label of divorce capital of the world has stuck definitively to the fashionable collars of our great city. London, of course, is celebrated for many things: its stunning historical architecture, the exquisite depth of its arts and culture scene, the indomitable pulse of its financial services industry. Yet, possibly contrary to first appearances, being the global centre of high-net-worth divorce is also an accolade that we should applaud.
The reasons for lauding this title are threefold. Firstly, our bustling metropolis is now the capital of choice for the super rich, global community who have, consequently, brought revenue to our economy. According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2014, London now has more billionaires than any other city in the world – add to that its cosmopolitan eclecticism and its cultural and economic vibrancy and it really is rightly spoken of as the capital of the world. In recent years, when the economy sought a much needed boost, the liquid capital of London’s international big spenders was (and continues to be) valuable to us all. Royalty, celebrities and entrepreneurs from all corners of the earth have chosen to live in London, bringing with them considerable wealth; and they therefore have the right to use our robust legal system.
Secondly, London divorce courts have garnered a deserved reputation for being favourable to claiming spouses. Since 2000, English matrimonial law has made it clear that there should be no strong distinction between homemaker and breadwinner: the assets accumulated during a marriage should be shared equally between the two parties. This has struck a resounding chord with many who would benefit from a 50-50 split, encouraging numerous individuals to fight for their cases to be heard in London. Also, the judges are seen as incorruptible. The perception of fairness is not often mentioned when people speak of London being the capital of divorce, but it is certainly an aspect of the attraction for many people.
Thirdly, London has always been a city of innovation. Not much longer than a decade ago, family law was seen as the distant, unwashed cousin of the ‘real’ law. However, with the globalisation of business and the increased fluidity of personal wealth, high-net-worth divorce has become as intellectually challenging as the more established professions within the legal family such as tax or corporate law. This, in turn, requires solicitors with exceptional minds, as fighting a client’s corner can be a complex mix of corporate investigation and aggressive litigation. The essential ingredient to success, though, is innovation. When representing Katrin Radmacher, for instance, in the case that made prenuptial agreements enforceable in England, I had to rewrite the rule book on decades of previous English law.
A society is an organic, living entity – nowhere more so than in London. Law should also be adaptable; it should be changed for the needs of those living and working in the world we have created today. My company, Vardags, is one of the leading high-net-worth divorce firms in the capital precisely because we are never satisfied with the status quo.
London’s status as a global centre for divorce will always have its critics; but the reality is that people can fall in and out of love whether they earn 25k or 250k per year. But irrespective of the assets of those involved, the increase in HNW divorces being heard here is the direct result of London’s standing as a city of great vision and international acclaim.