‘It was just me and a paralegal on day one,’ recalls Stephen Foster, the much-admired head of Stewarts’ divorce and family department.
In the 12 years since he set it up, the department has grown into one of the most remarkable in the city. ‘The size and strength in depth of the department means that we can deal with cases ranging from up and coming City professionals to some of the largest cases before the English Court,’ he says. ’We have a particular expertise in dealing with international cases straddling various jurisdictions.’
The last 12 months have been the busiest in the department’s history, Foster is happy to report. France, Switzerland and Luxembourg have been ‘particularly prominent’, with the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine also significant. Foster himself has dealt with two ‘very high asset cases’, and has noticed an increasing desire among clients for firms to deliver excellence across the entire team.
In particular, Foster acted for the banker husband in C v C  EWHC 3186 (Fam) which was reported just before Christmas. In this matter, Roberts J clarified the court’s approach to the non-earning spouses’ right (or lack of) to share non-marital assets, a matter which is, in Foster’s view, ‘a really important authority for bankers and other high earners with deferred bonus schemes’.
Foster also observes: ‘Where the court goes next in relation to special contributions is the hottest current debate in family law. It is fitting shortly after the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote that there is a serious debate by the court as to whether any unwarranted deviation from equal sharing is discriminatory.’
‘I think the age of individuals (alone) dominating the family law landscape is in the process of being replaced by a small number of highly regarded firms,’ he explains. ‘It’s not enough to have one or two star partners. Everyone in the firm (at every level) needs to demonstrate excellence.’ Fortunately, Stewarts is in good stead, with one private client lawyer recently describing the department as ‘the Slaughter and May of family law’.
Foster’s clients include figures from the City and entrepreneurs, and many of his cases have an international dimension including Europe, the US and the Middle East. Industry commentators have described him as ‘a great lateral thinker’, ‘an intelligent and superbly talented litigator’ and ‘the go-to for complex financial proceedings’, while others have praised him for his pragmatism, gravitas, and for ‘leading Stewarts’ phalanx of family law lawyers to the top of the pack.’