Ayesha Vardag, Founder and President of Vardags, was the latest guest to appear on Channel 4’s leading podcast Ways to Change the World, hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
From Ayesha’s career and background, which has also been the subject of profiles by the BBC and the Sunday Times, to whether counselling should be mandatory for all couples, the discussion encompassed some of the most pressing issues in family law and, crucially, how they may be solved.
Below is a recap of some of the key quotes. You can also listen to the full podcast here, or watch the full interview by clicking the video at the bottom of the article.
The attraction of the English court system
“The English court system is very redistributive.
“It is based on very solid principles: that marriage is a partnership which you go into together, build things up together and while one may be taking the role of breadwinner, you are a partnership playing different roles within a team. So, therefore, the fruits of that marriage should broadly be divided equally, except in very exceptional circumstances.
“That is a very attractive position - it is very fair and non-chauvinist because it recognises the value of different roles. The default is, if you do not agree something different, that the fruits of your marriage will be divided equally.
“More than this, the English courts are really good at actually digging into what that [the combined assets of a marriage] actually means - other jurisdictions say they do but they won’t go much beyond what the richer party is saying. It is all very well to know you are getting half - but half of what?”
How typical couples should approach divorce
“The smart thing to do is to sit down with a relatively easy handbook of what the law is and how any settlement is likely to be worked out. You should then try to work out broadly how the law might apply to your situation, so you understand the key principles, and then sit down together at the kitchen table and try to work the division out.
“If you can't take this approach, there are always lawyers to assist.
“The other thing that is really worth doing nowadays, if you have the courage, is to go to court and represent yourself in person. This is a really straightforward approach that avoids recriminations and complaining - simply outlining where you are on the finances and the children and request for the court to help.
“In fact, you can both do that or agree to do that and the judge will sort it out. It is better to represent yourself than have a bad lawyer.”
The need to simplify the law
“It would be a big step forward if we could have a simpler set of rules - they are not set out clearly enough and there is too much divergence between judges with different approaches.
“What we need, first of all, is to properly reform the law, making it much more codified and ensuring the principles which will be applied are applied uniformly.
“Tailored and bespoke solutions for each couple have their advantages but, of course, the downside is that every couple needs to go to court so they can have someone give them a bespoke solution. If it was clearer, they could apply the rules themselves or, at least, have it sorted out at a much earlier stage. Making the law much simpler, with straightforward principles, and set out clearly would be a huge step forward.”
How Ayesha would change the divorce system
“First of all, I would simplify everything: simplify, codify and make it clear that everyone could pick up a small manual and see immediately the rules and principles which would be applied to them.
“Secondly, I would make it compulsory that all couples have counselling before marriage and counselling before divorce. So, if you want to enter into the institution of marriage, you have that support to get you to explore what you want.
“The counselling beforehand should explore what your expectations are - ranging from children through money to which roles each individual will take in the marriage. Having the support of someone who is qualified to help people reach a resolution will allow people the opportunity to resolve problems before they arise - if they cannot, then they may consider not marrying. There is so much in marriage that is just about mad love, often very early, but love that won’t overcome the obstacles that will crop up. Having counselling pre-marriage to iron out those issues would be very valuable.
“Then, if it comes to divorce, rather than just the requirement to look into mediation over your finances, having some counselling, either together or sparely, to support people into finding what they really want and what is really driving the separation would again be very valuable.
“This way, couples can know whether it truly is the end of the road or if they have rushed into a decision and could therefore engage in a programme where they could try to reconcile.”
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