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June 13, 2024updated 09 Jul 2024 9:25am

The best divorce lawyers in London

When the super-rich separate, these are the go-to divorce lawyers they turn to

By Rory Sachs

Going through a divorce can be a particularly challenging time for high-net-worth individuals and their families. Not only do they have to grapple with the emotional and practical aspects of separating, but they also have to consider how their complex finances are divided.

HNWs may also be dealing with international surrogacy agreements, child custody issues, and the provision of pre- and post-nuptial agreements. This means that they need specialised legal experts who can help with their cases – and that’s where a top divorce lawyer comes in.

London is frequently billed as the ‘divorce capital of the world’, with many HNW couples seeking to establish jurisdiction here to have their cases heard in the High Court. When working out how to divide assets, the ‘starting point’ in the England and Wales courts is a ‘fair’ split, though the courts have discretion in what this might mean. Judges have also tended to be sympathetic to the financially weaker party in divorce proceedings.

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Given the capital’s prominence as an international centre for divorce, the city is home to some of the leading divorce lawyers on the planet, who have dealt with the cases of A-listers, royalty, and high-profile businesspeople.

Many have also played a role in shaping the law of the land through important precedents set following their cases.

Spear’s carries out research into HNW clients each year in several different categories, including family law. This full year’s index of top family lawyers in 2024 can be found here. It is an indispensable guide for HNWs and UHNWs in search of legal advice in the UK and beyond.

Here are Spear’s top divorce lawyers in London based on Spear’s extensive research.

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[See also: How A-listers and the super-wealthy announce a divorce to their friends — and the wider world]

Who are the top divorce lawyers in London?

Ayesha VardagVardags 

Ayesha Vardag divorce lawyer family lawyer
Ayesha Vardag, president of Vardags / Image: Vardags

Known by some as ‘the diva of divorce’, Ayesha Vardag is one of family law’s most recognisable figures, having led several high-profile cases to go before the courts in England and Wales, including the landmark Radmacher v Granatino in 2010. She founded Vardags in 2005 to support a global slate of UHNWs with high-asset-value litigation and has since expanded the firm with successful bases in Manchester and Cambridge.

Fiona ShackletonPayne Hicks Beach

Baroness Shackleton divorce lawyer
Industry peers describe Baroness Shackleton as ‘the greatest family lawyer of all time’ / Image: Payne Hicks Beach

One of the ‘Queen Bees’, Fiona Shackleton has had a transformative impact on family law in the UK and beyond. The leading divorce lawyer’s work continues to define the family law landscape, including successfully representing the husband in the multi-billion-pound Supreme Court case Potanin v Potanina (2023).

Presiding over many of Payne Hicks Beach‘s highest-value cases, her extensive list of esteemed clients has included the now-King Charles III, Stephen Hawking, Paul McCartney and Princess Haya bint Hussein of Jordan. Shackleton’s support for the princess led to her being crowned Family Lawyer of the Year at the 2021 Spear’s Awards.

[See also: Fiona Shackleton: Britain’s most feared divorce lawyer]

Diana ParkerWithers 

Diana Parker’s high-value cases are often resolved through private FDRs rather than in court / Image: Withers

Diana Parker made legal history when she became the first woman to be appointed the first senior partner of a City-based law firm in 1998.

While she is no stranger to cases in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, she estimates that 80-90 per cent of her cases are settled through financial dispute resolution.

One industry observer told Spear’s that the Withers partner’s service was ‘discreet’, ‘slick’ and ‘awesome’.

Julian LipsonWithers 

Julian Lipson is well known for his work around pre-nuptial agreements / Image: Withers

In a world where ‘Queen Bees’ still reign supreme, many industry observers tell Spear’s that Withers’ Julian Lipson could be described as the leading man.

The partner is known for his Anglo-French work and his ‘leading’ industry practice assisting clients with pre-nuptial agreements, according to his firm. He also supports clients with children cases, and frequently comments on family law cases in the national press.

Catherine BedfordHarbottle & Lewis

Catherine Bedford divorce lawyer
Catherine Bedford, the recipient of the 2022 Spear’s Award for Family Lawyer of the Year, represented Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in his case against Princess Haya bint Hussein / Image: Sebastian Nevols

Catherine Bedford set up Harbottle & Lewis’s family law department ‘basically from nowhere’, an impressed industry insider has told Spear’s. Part of her success as a family lawyer stems from balancing a tough litigating style with a strong emotional intelligence.

Well-known for her work with the highest-value clients, she amassed a star-studded legal team (Richard Spearman KC, Lord Pannick KC, Nigel Dyer KC, and Deborah Eaton KC) when she represented Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in his divorce from Princess Haya bint Hussein. Most recently, Bedford has supported actress Sophie Turner in her divorce from pop star Joe Jonas.

[See also: The ‘Queen Bees’ of divorce law — long may they reign?]

Francis Hughes Hughes Fowler Carruthers

Frances Hughes / Image: Hughes Fowler Carruthers

Senior partner of Hughes Fowler Carruthers, Frances Hughes is known for her complex children work and is also a trained mediator.

‘Often the highlights are the cases you’ve settled,’ says Hughes, who, despite her reputation as one of the top litigators in the field, strongly disapproves of ‘headbanger lawyers’ too keen to push things towards court. ‘Thank goodness that they’re the minority. Most lawyers get a sense of satisfaction from sorting things out.’

Debbie ChismStewarts 

divorce lawyer debbie chism stewarts
Stewarts’ Debbie Chism is known for her strategic nous / Image: Stewarts

A practitioner who has developed a stellar reputation for winning ‘fierce’ court battles, StewartsDebbie Chism also devises creative out-of-court methods when supporting her clients. 

She assists with the full gamut of family lawyer needs for high-value clients, including asset valuations, complex trusts structures, and international pre-nuptial agreements. Chism’s cases often centre around family assets which are valued in the tens of millions. Clients have included HRH Prince Louis of Luxembourg. 

Claire GordonFarrer & Co

Claire Gordon, Farrer & Co.
Claire Gordon, partner at Farrer & Co.

Farrer’s Claire Gordon has risen to prominence through acting for businesspeople, City of London professionals and those in the public eye at what is often one of the most pivotal moments in their lives. 

She combines a personal touch with a pragmatic service. ‘For me, it is really about where I can add value, and how you can help people get through the period.’

The Farrer stalwart adds: ‘I focus on a client’s best interests. To have a successful practice you don’t need to be aggressive; you need to be robust, but not aggressive.’

[See also: Leading divorce lawyers tell Spear’s how the world of high-value divorce is changing]

Stephen FosterStewarts 

divorce lawyer
Stephen Foster says the nature of UHNW divorce increasingly involves teamwork at the top level / Image: Stewarts

The high-value cases handled by Stewarts include both ‘up and coming’ City professionals and ‘some of the largest cases [taken] before the English Court,’ Stephen Foster says. 

Foster, who has been described as a ‘go to’ practitioner for complex financial work, says that UK family law has changed in recent years to reflect the greater emphasis on team talent. 

‘It’s not enough to have one or two star partners. It’s not like flying a Spitfire any more; it’s like flying a Dreamliner,’ he says. ‘And that’s what we do at Stewarts – we have a constellation of talent.’

Emma HatleyStewarts

Emma Hatley
Emma Hatley / Image: Stewarts

Stewarts stalwart Emma Hatley’s cases typically have a strong international dimension; recently, she advised a family office over the provision of a $1 billion pre-nuptial agreement, relying on international advice from the Middle East and the US.

A veteran of Spear’s divorce lawyer rankings, Hatley advises a mix of City professionals, entrepreneurs, and wealthy families, dealing with issues including asset tracing, inherited wealth, and international relocation issues involving children.

Miranda FisherCharles Russell Speechlys 

With a truly international client base, Fisher often supports high-value divorcees with child custody work / Image: Charles Russell Speechlys

Charles Russell SpeechlysMiranda Fisher sits at the top of the London market for her work helping international divorcees with financial provisions and is well-versed in children’s law. The family practitioner, who also deals with child relocation issues, has over two-decades of experience as a solicitor.

‘I do a lot of international work, and that’s by virtue of Charles Russell Speechlys being an international law firm,’ Fisher has told Spear’s. 

Camilla BaldwinCamilla Baldwin Solicitors

divorce lawyer
Camilla Baldwin, founder of Camilla Baldwin solicitors / Image: Camilla Baldwin

Known for representing a slate of UHNWs, Camilla Baldwin tells Spear’s that her firm often assists the spouses of billionaires who, while successful in their entrepreneurial endeavours, often have emotional issues in their personal lives. 

She juggles her busy practice with Not Beyond Redemption, a free legal service dedicated to supporting imprisoned women in the difficulties they face seeing their children, which assists in ‘re-establishing and regenerating the fundamental relationship between mother and child.’

Mark HarperHughes Fowler Carruthers 

Image: Hughes Fowler Carruthers

Mark Harper has told Spear’s that he is not fazed by the complexities in his client’s cases – which can involve tough negotiations. ‘Sometimes, in order to get the best deal for a client, you have to make it clear that the client is willing to go all the way,’ Harper says. 

Litigation, meanwhile, may be the only possible tool to reach a favourable outcome. ‘Often, if a case goes to trial, only the lawyers truly win. But in some cases one spouse is so unrealistic or unreasonable there is no choice but to go to trial to get a fair result.’

The highly-experienced lawyer also acts in children’s cases. 

[See also: Spin Machine: Reputation and media experts are turning to TikTok]

Davina Katz  – Katz Partners 

Image: Davina Katz

Davina Katz founded her eponymous law firm five years ago, having formerly headed up the family team at Schillings. It is not unusual in the divorce lawyer’s cases for hundreds of millions of pounds to be stake, while her clients are often in the public eye (Katz represented Kate Winslet in her divorce from Sam Mendes in 2010). 

As well as being a pro with ‘high-stakes’ litigation, she relishes the ability to affect change with her work.  ‘The most exciting work for a practitioner in the family arena is a case which offers the prospect of making a big difference,’ she says.

Jane KeirKingsley Napley 

Formerly the senior partner of Kingsley Napley, Jane Keir has earned a stellar reputation off the back of her work in a number of high-value High Court cases, including Daga v Daga (Bangur) [2018] and C v JC [2019]. 

Jane Keir / Image: Kingsley Napley

She credits part of her success with clients to the wide service offering of her firm.

Keir explains: ‘We can just walk down the stairs and there’s the best immigration team in the country.’

‘So if we have someone who is about to get divorced and they’re terrified they’re about to lose their right to stay in the UK, we can resolve that really quickly.’ 

William MasseyFarrer & Co

A family law veteran with more than three decades of experience in the field, Farrer & Co’s William Massey is a sensitive practitioner who guides his clients with ‘dignity, wisdom and common sense,’ according to his firm.

William Massey is experienced practitioner who guides clients with ‘wisdom and common sense,’ according to his firm / Image: Farrer & Co

One of the firm’s senior partners, Massey is experienced both in complex financial disputes and in children work, in addition to a large number of pre-nups and post-nups.

[See also: Landmark divorce ruling puts the ‘sharing principle’ in the spotlight]

Kate ClarkMishcon de Reya 

The new head of family law at Mishcon, Kate Clark has been a partner of the firm since 2021 after joining in 2014. With a reputation for being pragmatic and offering ‘straightforward’ advice, Clark says her approach to client work involves close collaboration with those around her. 

‘I want to raise up those around me. Even when it comes down to our business planning: we’ve got individual targets, but I don’t even know what my target is. I don’t care, because it’s the team target [that matters].’

James StewartPenningtons Manches Cooper

James Stewart / Image: Penningtons Manches Cooper

‘I focus on securing a fair settlement from the very outset – and complexity should never be a bar to an early settlement,’ James Stewart tells Spear’s, of his indefatigable attitude when dealing with tough cases. 

A number of the Penningtons‘ lawyers clients are well-known players in the music and entertainment worlds. Even in the most contentious cases, Stewart team of divorce lawyers strive to find a fair outcome, and give clients a service which is ‘second to none’, he says.

Away from his practice, Stewart is the editor of Family Law: A Global Guide, which is widely thought of as a ‘Blue Book’ for the industry.

Find out more

These leading divorce lawyers are all featured in The Spear’s 500, with a ‘top flight’ ranking.

To explore all the Spear’s indices, and to use our find-an-adviser tool to identify the private client adviser who is right for your specific requirements, go to The Spear’s 500 website.

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