Vardags’ Simon McKirgan works on the firm’s divorce cases involving the greatest assets. Experienced across a wide range of family law issues (including international child relocation cases), he leads a formidable team specialising in complex international financial disputes, working solely with UHNWs and HNWs (often high-profile) from the worlds of commerce, banking, the media and sport.
‘To be a good divorce lawyer now, you have to be flexible, absolutely forensic and comfortable dealing with highly complex cross-border disputes,’ says McKirgan, who, this year, has been handling a number of cases not only involving vast wealth running into the hundreds of millions, but also complex jurisdictional issues that have proved to be a fascinating intellectual challenge.
‘Often with the ultra-high net worth clients, the men are either self-made businessmen or someone coming from great family wealth,’ he explains to Spear’s. ‘Women are very often their spouses, and more financially vulnerable. The HNW husband’s concern is very often with retaining their wealth and they can find it difficult – especially initially – to understand the court’s position that their wives might be entitled to as much as half of that wealth.
HNW wives can, on the other hand, in many cases be indoctrinated with the idea that all the assets are the husband’s, on the basis that he has earned them, even though they have been married to him, supporting him, and raising their family for many years. In those cases, it can take them time to appreciate why they would be entitled to a fair share. Both need a lot of guidance and support.’
McKirgan says that HNW divorce these days is not just a case of there being more to carve up, but that asset-locked wealth in businesses, complex trusts and other offshore structures can complicate the process. ‘Parties are often sophisticated in their efforts to hide assets in such cases where they might either seek to distance themselves from assets, hide them altogether, or claim that their value is far more limited than it is due to liquidity issues,’ he says. ‘It takes a deeply forensic approach and understanding firstly to trace the assets, then to structure settlements to a client’s best advantage. In addition, HNWs have increasingly international lives so, often, before you can even address the settlement, it’s necessary to contest the jurisdiction in which the case should be heard.’ Ultimately, his work is not just about money: ‘It’s hugely satisfying to know that you are making a real difference to someone during a very difficult time in their lives.’