Will London continue to be the 'capital of divorce'?
There is no reason to suspect this might change in the immediate future. In fact, following Brexit, it may be possible for divorce proceedings to begin simultaneously both in London and in an EU member state. At the moment, that cannot happen as 'first past the post' wins the jurisdiction race within the EU. There is, unhappily for our clients, the potential for more litigation in future years as a result of these 'forum conveniens' debates.
Is Family Law solely about divorce?
No. Family law is by far the broadest and most interesting of all legal areas. It is about problem solving and planning ahead for your client in any number of personal situations. This can range from advising couples looking ahead to their married lives in the context of prenuptial agreements to dealing with the difficult decisions that need to be made when one parent wishes to move abroad with children, either for work or after a separation.
How important is it to have a team that complements each other?
Whichever member of the team our clients deal with, they receive the very best advice and client care. We offer the technical excellence, experience and capability you would expect from a leading family department, allied to commerciality. We work hard to find the best results for clients. These are achieved with complete discretion, using the right means of resolution for them. Whilst that involves a court route for some, for many that means a different, more flexible solution such as collaborative law, mediation or arbitration.
What are the most remarkable cases you've worked on?
I have found collaborative work to be the most flexible, positive and constructive experience for clients who have committed to it and, as a result, the most rewarding and remarkable. Collaborative agreements require clients and lawyers to agree at the outset not to take matters to court. All discussions and agreements must be round table - the lawyers are sacked if the case has to litigate.
The collaborative process can be used for all forms of agreements whether that is in the context of divorce, prenuptial agreements or children-related decisions. I recently completed a collaborative case involving assets of over £200m. A case of this sort could have been highly contentious, and taken two years and horrific costs to fight out in court. Clients really do feel the benefits of a resolution that is entirely led by their wishes and feelings rather than decided for them by the court.
Will 'big-money divorces' only get bigger and is the law responding appropriately?
Family law moves with the times; it is the area of law that reacts more quickly than any other to changing social views. It is difficult to imagine big money divorces getting bigger. London is an international city, and over the past 20 years we have seen increasing numbers of international cases involving families with exceptional wealth.
The question posed is wrong - we have a discretionary system in which the court reaches the decision it believes is fair. What is changing is the availability to clients of alternative means of resolving legal issues whether that is through collaboration, mediation or arbitration. At Stewarts, we can advise clients on the right way forward for them and their family on the difficult and sensitive decisions they face.
Debbie Chism is a Partner in the Divorce and Family team. She specialises in family matters, dealing with all aspects but with a particular bias towards cases involving complex financial issues with high value assets, including those with an international dimension.
Chambers & Partners 2017 states "she is very creative and a hard fighter who backs her clients to the hilt. Clients love her because she can really defuse tension." The 2017 edition ranks Debbie in Band 1. Chambers has described her as "an expert in hard fought matrimonial litigation, but maintains a strong reputation as a collaborative lawyer....she will negotiate hard and is open to collaborative approaches. She can see solutions that other people can't."
Debbie is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and was a long-standing member of the Resolution Standards Committee, writing the organisation's published Good Practice Guide to working with the Bar.