‘It’s time we cracked on and made prenups binding,’ Deborah Jeff, founder and head of Seddons’ family department tells Spear’s over the phone. ‘If you can say what happens on death in your will, then why shouldn’t you be able to say what happens on divorce in your prenup?’.
Jeff’s clients are typically HNWs based in London or the home counties – so they want the prestige that comes with a London lawyer. However, when it comes to the great hive of London divorce, she says, ‘it’s the inter-human skills which set apart those that excel in what they do in our niche of the legal profession.’ Her attention to the psychological impact of her clients’ circumstances (working with psychologists and counsellors to ensure clients navigate the separation process in the healthiest way possible), and not simply the legalities surrounding a case, distinguishes her from other reputable family lawyers. ‘I’m not aware of any other family lawyer who has taken this approach, and have made it my USP for the benefit of my clients,’ she explains.
Most of Jeff’s work involves complex financial disputes within divorce and between cohabiting couples, often with offshore elements and intricate taxation issues. She also has considerable experience with issues relating to children – such as contact, residence, child abduction and paternity testing.
A key voice on the major issues facing family law, Jeff tells Spear’s that the standard of judging has been a topic of conversation for some time now amongst London’s leading lawyers. ‘Obviously the courts are still overburdened,’ she says. ‘There’s more recognition now for people wanting autonomy over their financial affairs when they divorce, and that theme is being carried through by encouraging mediation and giving more recognition to prenups. But the quality of judging remains patchy. That’s a courteous way of putting it. Basically it’s a lottery.’
Interestingly, Jeff adds that this is one of the reasons why clients are opting out, taking the private FDR route and contracting out with arbitration. ‘But arbitration isn’t catching on as much as we’d like,’ she says. ‘There have been about 200 cases so far. It’s slower to catch on than I anticipated. Clients seem reluctant to opt out completely with arbitration. At least with a private FDR, they feel safely under the umbrella of the court system and they opt back in if it doesn’t settle.’
Is London still the divorce capital of the world? Yes, says Jeff, ‘but the principles that put it there (although still in place) are in danger of being eroded.’ However, ‘If you’re acting for the wife of a HNW or UHNW, you want to issue in London straight away’ – Jeff is only a call away.