26th Jan 2016

Red Card for Family Lawyers....

Ever since the announcement broke, which I learned of from the very simple and sincere tweet from @GaryLineker, I’ve been under some pressure to write about the split of Gary Lineker and Danielle Bux. I have found myself reluctant to do so and arguably it is old news now. My reluctance is partly because I’ve grown up with Lineker; watching him rise up through the ranks of English football and internationally, followed by a successful BBC presenting career. Of Ms Bux, I know considerably less - but I did watch the documentary they were part of regarding step families and my respect for her (and indeed the whole family) grew. Step families, in whatever shape or form (and whatever your surname) are not an easy gig. Another part of my reluctance to enter into idle chat and speculation - after all, we don’t really know these people even if they are household names to us - is out of respect for them as people. Celebrity status affords no protection from emotional pain and I can only imagine the additional glare and scrutiny makes it yet more challenging. Not to mention the complexities of how to deal with all of this in the boundless world of social media.

So what is my considered opinion on all of this then? Well, reading what has been written over the last few days, two angles have emerged. Much has been made of the fact that Gary Lineker is divorcing for £410; playing on the image of the canny, crisp-eating Gary. The second angle is how Gary and Danielle intend to keep it ‘amicable’. Amicable is a word thrown around much in family law circles but Gary has set a very high threshold, “the greatest of friends” – good on him. What links the two angles is that Gary can only achieve both by avoiding those most dreadful of people; no, not football referees – lawyers! And for good measure let’s just add the commonly linked adjective “fat cat lawyers”.

If I rush to defend these most heinous of creatures, being one myself, then I will simply attract more criticism. People will say “you’re bound to say that”; that we all stick up for each other and it’s alright for us because we are all minted from other people’s miseries, etc etc. It’s particularly galling that articles featuring purportedly prominent family lawyers have taken a sideswipe at us too. Getting a red card warning about the expense of lawyers and the impact of litigation from certain quarters feels a bit like Robbie Savage giving Gary Lineker a lecture on the importance of clean tackles in football!

So let’s try and separate fact from fiction and deal with the cost point; £410 pounds is the fee paid to the court just to get your divorce papers before a judge, nothing to do with lawyers. It looks like what Gary has done is deal with the paperwork for the divorce himself and that’s not uncommon; I suggest this to lots of people that they might want to do this if they want to save some legal fees. If you don’t want to pay for eating food in the canteen you bring your own packed lunch. Simples.

What really gets me is the suggestion that lawyers will increase the angst; that a lawyer’s objective is to fuel the fire and get divorcing couples slogging it out in court. But as Gary so aptly put it (concerning the spin on the bottle of wine story from The Sun), “why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” So whilst we ‘fat-cat lawyers’ will always be labelled as such and you will ever be told to avoid us at all costs (emotional and financial) the simple, even slightly boring reality, is that there are family lawyers who will today (and every day) just get on with their most important job; helping families sort the fallout from relationship breakdowns. Many of those lawyers will be members of Resolution www.resolution.org.uk . Lots of them will be collaborative lawyers www.cflnorth.co.uk .

The suggestion in some quarters is that Danielle and Gary have only been able to keep matters amicable because they had a pre-nup. I don’t know if they did. Certainly Pre-Nups can help reduce some tension at the splitting up end. I would say what is much more important, and what Lineker and Bux seem to have in abundance, is good communication, respect for each other and the savvy to know that although their marriage has broken down it is possible to come out the other side with something new. Just like footballer to presenter, if you like. Having the right lawyers on board works with families to achieve that, not against them.

So I wish both Danielle and Gary well and I wish that the right messages about divorce and about lawyers would get out there. I know which wish is more likely to come good - I suspect Gary will continue to have much better luck with his public image than we lawyers do!

Written by Sarah Smith of Berwins Solicitors.

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