The past year, we have acted for people from all around the globe, from different backgrounds and with varying circumstances. Each has faced their own challenges. As family lawyers, we have been challenged in our approach to looking after our clients going through difficult personal circumstances. Brexit has also brought with it a plethora of issues for High Net Worth (HNW) international families. For HNW clients, they have seen businesses go from boom to bust as the pandemic rumbles on. Time spent at home has also had an impact on relationships for better or for worse.

What do HNW clients look for when appointing a family lawyer and has that changed this year?

For HNW and other clients, they want to know they have access to their advisors when they need them. Being accessible has become even more important where people's minds are not simply set on time in or out of the office. Clients are also looking for strategic advice.

At an early stage, we form a strategy for them and agree an approach. "This is particularly important where the dynamic is more than a family one, for example, continuing to run a business together. It is important to look at the whole picture and to work collaboratively with financial and other experts" says Shaun George

He finds HNW clients need more than advice about how the law applies. "HNW clients need you to consider matters from all angles. We often have cases where we are drawing on the experience of our colleagues for issues which are not family law specific – privacy, tax, overall wealth planning. The list is endless".

Are all HNW family cases litigated and what impact has the pandemic had on cases in court?

On the contrary. In Scotland, the emphasis is on reaching a financial settlement. Sometimes it is necessary to litigate, but for most cases it is about finding focus where there has been none. 

"If a couple have money to share, the case should not need to end up in court if everyone is working towards a constructive solution" says Richard B Smith. "I have a real issue with cases that end up in court that shouldn't be there – often taking a step back and looking at the issues in a sensible and focussed way is all that is required. When couples are aware of the cost of litigating, they usually realise they should be dividing their wealth between them rather than spending it on lawyers' fees in Court." 

Richard points out that the pandemic afforded an opportunity to couples in a Court process: " When the system slowed down because of COVID 19, many couples were almost forced to find their own solutions and often they ended up in a better position that they would have been by continuing through the Courts." ."

For couples who live in the public eye or have money, court is not the best place to be. It isn't private. Things don't move at the fast pace most people are now accustomed to. In our experience, HNW clients are keen to sort out their situation as soon as they can. Richard comments "that can involve coming up with solutions which are creative and which go beyond what a court can order a couple to do."

What impact has Brexit had on family cases?

Families with international ties have endured a difficult year – less able to travel and less certainty about where they should deal with the breakdown of their relationship. Over the last year, we have seen families moving to a new country to be close to extended family if the restrictions allowed.

"Their whole lives may have been turned upside down and that can have an impact on relationships. It is really important to understand the impact of that and what life was like before coming or returning to the UK" comments Lisa Girdwood

"The rules on whether a couple can divorce in Scotland changed as a result of Brexit and it's more important than ever that clients understand the benefits of divorcing in one country rather than another whether that be Scotland or elsewhere ". 

For HNW the choice of where to divorce can have a significant impact on the financial outcome.

As a specialist in child abduction cases Lisa has seen a downturn in the number of cases relating to the wrongful removal of children to and from the UK. "The possibility of going to live elsewhere with children has obviously been limited with travel restrictions in place."

Are pre-nuptial agreements still in demand for HNW clients?

Despite the impact of the pandemic on weddings, people have chosen to have smaller weddings and lots of couples are now planning weddings quickly so that they can get married while the restrictions are being lifted. Couples who were engaged during the pandemic are keen to get on with married life. We have seen a significant upturn in pre-nuptial agreements since June – most of which need to be done quickly. 

With speed comes pressure. "Pre-nuptial agreements can't wait and how you handle them can have a significant bearing on the couple's marriage if not handled in the right way" says Jennifer Wilkie

"I encourage couples to have difficult conversations with one another and work collaboratively with one another and their lawyers. It is incredibly important that they understand the agreement they are entering if the agreement is to work properly." 

As the wedding boom continues, so the demand for pre-nuptial is likely to grow.

Brodies is ranked again in the Chambers UK High Net Worth Guide 2021 for family/matrimonial law.