An expert’s guide to…Family Law and Divorce, with Katie O’Callaghan
Family Partner & Mediator, Katie O’Callaghan shares the divorce process and explains how to protect your assets and your peace of mind whilst going through a separation in a recent interview with The Dura Society - a financial well-being consultancy with an aim to help strong, creative and ambitious women improve their relationship with their wealth.
“I am a family lawyer at Boodle Hatfield LLP, a full service law firm for individuals. I trained there and have now worked there for, dare I say it (!), 13 years which is a testament to the people, quality of work and values of the firm.”
What is family law?
I would describe family law as assisting and advising individuals in relation to all stages of their relationship – whether it be at the outset of living together or in the lead up to nuptials; in the midst of a marriage; or on separation/divorce.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
The people. Every client is different and each set of circumstances is unique. No family is the same which means every case throws up new challenges, situations and solutions. Often clients who come to see me who are on the brink of divorce are understandably not in a good place. Whilst the process of divorce is of course not easy, it is rewarding to see so many clients re-gain their confidence and independence as we draw matters to a conclusion.
What are your typical clients looking to achieve through working with someone like yourself?
Most of my clients are looking for a discreet advisor who will provide them with sensible and pragmatic advice to enable them to navigate what can often be an extremely challenging time in their lives. It is about reaching solutions that work for them and their circumstances.
What are some of the common themes that you encounter in your day to day?
Asset protection is an increasing area of my practice. I really enjoy working with families who wish to protect wealth for future generations.
When should someone come to see you?
Some people come to see me simply to get an idea of where they would stand if a separation or divorce occurred but have no intention at that stage of going any further. Others come with a clear intention to progress matters without delay. If you are in a relationship and you are concerned that there is a risk of it breaking down, there is no harm in having that initial meeting to give you some security as to the likely outcome in case it ever happens. Knowledge is power after all.
What is the process of divorce?
The divorce process itself is actually fairly simple and straightforward. It is a paperwork exercise and there is no need to attend Court. It is often the other aspects that come with divorce, such as the division of the finances and/or agreeing arrangements for children that can be more time consuming and require some negotiation.
You are also a trained mediator: can you explain what this is and how it works?
Mediation is a non-legal and alternative route to resolving disputes. The mediator is a specially trained neutral third party who is there to facilitate discussions between both of you. It is designed to give you more flexibility to resolve matters in a way that suits your family’s unique circumstances rather than relinquishing control of the outcome to the rather rigid constraints of the Court process. It is not suitable for all as there has to be a willingness to have direct discussions with your other half (with the mediator present) and to compromise.
What would you say to someone who was anxious about seeing a lawyer?
Don’t be! Whilst it can seem intimidating, our satisfaction is gained from helping people. You can talk in the knowledge that everything you say is completely confidential and whilst you may feel embarrassed or anxious about talking about your private life, nothing you say will be judged.
It’s also important to remember that there is no harm in having an initial meeting even if you don’t know if you want to take any further steps. Plenty of people come to see me who just want to know where they stand but take no further action. That is fine.
What should someone prepare before their first meeting with a family lawyer?
Most first meetings are an opportunity for you to tell me how I can help you and what you want to achieve. In that sense, writing down any questions you would like to be answered is always helpful as it is often easy to forget in the moment when I am relaying a fair amount of information at what can be an emotional time. However, I often say to clients that in order to get the most out of that 90 minutes or so, it is really helpful to have an overview of the financial picture either before or at the outset of the meeting to enable me to give more accurate advice about the likely outcome.
What are the key elements for safeguarding your assets during a relationship?
One of my colleagues, an extremely experienced family lawyer, provides the same advice to every client who asks this question: the best way to safeguard your assets during a relationship is not to get married. Rights for cohabitees compared to spouses are currently worlds apart. If you are in a cohabiting relationship, you can feel confident that your own assets will remain yours if your relationship breaks down. As soon as you marry, all of your wealth is potentially available for division. There is a reason that London is known as the ‘divorce capital of the world’. This is part of the reason why pre-nuptial agreements are becoming increasingly common in this country as a means of protecting your wealth if you do wish to marry.
What are your top tips for staying calm during divorce?
Make sure you have a support network in place whether it be close friends, family members or professionals such as therapists. This is vital to your own wellbeing at an extremely difficult time in your life. Try and ensure you have an outlet too to take your mind off everything. Exercise is obviously a great way of doing this.
How do you define wealth?
Abundance in every sense, whether it be in relation to health, happiness, finance
What tools or resources do you currently use to manage your money?
My husband and I try to sit down every month to go through all things money-related. It is remarkably effective when you are staring at your income and outgoings in black and white and helps to keep on top of things and to work out where we might be able to make savings or changes to improve our money management.
Who is your role model and why?
Am I allowed three?! Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to feature given all she achieved for women which includes – the right to sign a mortgage without a man; the right to have a bank account without a male co-signer; the right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender; and the right for women to be pregnant/have children and work.
Whilst it’s a cliché, the others would be my parents – my Dad for establishing a very successful law firm from scratch with nothing behind him; and my Mum who was/is the master of the kids/career juggle (not that I realised or appreciated it at the time!). If I can do half as good a job as her, I’ll feel satisfied.
If you could invite 3 artists to dinner, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
I would love to enjoy a meal prepared by Heston Blumenthal – his ability to mix art with science is just brilliant. Ludovico Einaudi would provide some good background music and my incredibly talented sister-in-law Millie Richardson, a florist based in the Cotswolds (shameless plug – check her out on Instagram!), would take care of the setting with her stunning tablescapes.
This article was first published on 21 October 2020 on The Dura Society.