In early October, we were very privileged to attend the Corbett Le Quesne International Family Law Conference in Jersey. The Conference takes place annually in St Brelade's Bay and brings together many of the leading law firms and chambers practising in family law. The weather was warm and sunny and the Bay resembled a tropical island paradise throughout the event.
Following a morning relaxing and networking with contacts from across the family justice system, the Conference began after lunch with a welcome from Barbara Corbett and the keynote speech from Mr Justice Cobb who posed the question of whether London deserves it's reputation as the 'divorce capital of the world'.
Mr Justice Cobb pointed out that the Matrimonial Causes Act is 50 years old this year, and questioned whether reform is necessary. Family structures have, after all, changed considerably in the last 50 years.
The case of White v White (itself now 20 years old) moved the starting point from one spouse (generally the wife) being awarded only what was required for her maintenance, to a more liberal interpretation of the law based on the yardstick of equality. The courts moved to a position where they consider a fair split of assets, rather than just maintenance for one party. This was not necessarily controversial on the international stage because many other countries already had this approach.
This was followed over the years by many headlines calling London the divorce capital of the world. However, as Mr Justice Cobb pointed out, people cannot simply arrive in London and start divorce proceedings. There are 6 clear grounds and parties must base their case on one of them.
The reasons why London deserves the reputation it has include the willingness of the courts to award maintenance in addition to a split of capital; a broad interpretation of the word 'needs'; a flexible and wide discretion in order to achieve fairness; and distinguished, apolitical, expert judges.
This thought-provoking first session was followed by several other talks dealing with a huge range of international family issues, including:
- Divorce jurisdiction in England and Wales post-Brexit, and the potential for inconsistent decisions between the UK and the EU;
- Maintenance regulation, and issues in international enforcement post-Brexit;
- Jurisdiction, disputing jurisdiction, and the race for the final order (with the subsequent right to petition the court for enforcement);
- Expert evidence, and issues which can arise when instructing experts (with a very entertaining example of cross examination by Ann Hussey KC on Roger Isaacs (pictured));
- The potential for a global criteria for jurisdiction and forum;
- Narcissists in family law.
Once the business of the day was done, we had a chance to let our hair down and meet with friends, colleagues and clients. We started with drinks on the beach, followed by a delicious Conference dinner.
On the next morning, we were treated to an amazing RIB ride around the southern coast of Jersey. Sadly, we did not get to see any dolphins this year, but were very lucky to enjoy an amazing trip in beautiful sunshine. The boat captains picked up on the competitive nature of the passengers on board and we had some great races out at sea in between stopping various bays to see the sights of Jersey - and of France!
The final event was lunch at Corbiere Phare, a restaurant next to one of Jersey's lighthouses with more amazing views of the sea. And then it was time to take a short trip back from paradise - and to plan our trip for next year!