Divorce and family lawyers

If your relationship breaks down, you need clear direction at the outset on the legal options available to enable you to make informed decisions on the way forward. Our family and divorce solicitors will not shy away from giving you that steer.

When thinking about divorce, your objectives might be driven by concerns for your family or finances, or most likely both. Either way, our ability to quickly understand the facts of your situation, establish your goals, advise on realistic outcomes and strategy, and implement plans, distinguishes us from other family law firms.

Leading family and divorce lawyers

As one of the largest, longest established and most experienced team of family and divorce lawyers in the world, with nearly 30 lawyers offering a range of skills, there are few family situations we have not handled. The strength and depth of the expertise in our team, coupled with the discrete and consistently high level of service we pride ourselves on, is reflected by top-rated rankings across industry directories over the last 20 years.

Much of our work involves complex and cross-border issues. Our aim is to help you secure the best possible outcome for you and your children either through negotiated settlement or when necessary in court.

Shaping family and divorce law

One of the major benefits of having us on your side is that we have been involved in shaping family and divorce law and setting case precedents. These have included securing the largest ever reported divorce award in Hong Kong; securing a greater share of the marital wealth for the successful spouse in the only three reported cases in England where the outcome was based on special contribution; and changing the way in which the court decides cases of international child relocation. Out of court, our divorce lawyers have been at the vanguard of developing new processes to offer clients more options to arrive at a fair outcome.

With significant global experience in complex cases we are uniquely placed to advise on multi-jurisdictional issues (including divorce forum disputes, pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, cases with complex overseas trusts and business structures and international child relocation matters).

We have wide-ranging language capability including Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, French, Spanish and Italian.

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Recognition

20 years as a top ranked firm for family/matrimonial (1997-2017)

Leading firm - Band 1 for family/matrimonial in London

Top ranked firm for family/matrimonial

Top tier firm for family (2002-2016)

Winner of family/matrimonial law firm of the year

UK top family law firm

Market leader in family and divorce law - Hong Kong (2015-2016)

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Withers are a formidable team of professionals, for sure! It’s a remarkable record – in fact in terms of goals met it’s a 100% hit rate. Expectations, high and rightly so, constantly well exceeded every time.

Nick Luke
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I believe I received the best legal advice I could have and on top of that I felt I was personally supported every step of the way.  I always felt I had someone who was looking after my best interests – legally, financially and emotionally.

American artist
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Withers is without doubt the only law firm I will ever use in any of my affairs that require legal services. I have been their client for 5 years and have only ever experienced outstanding excellence in the unique service they provide. In my experience with Withers, I always felt like I was dealing with the absolute best of the best. One of the things I appreciate the most is that everybody I worked with had enormous compassion and kindness towards me. A very rare, very important quality that too many law firms lack.

Belinda Steiner
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I was so thankful that I engaged Withers to handle my private affairs. They were extraordinarily professional, discreet and above all, kind. They saw me through a very difficult time, with tact, diplomacy and an abundance of wisdom, for which I am extremely grateful.

Business owner
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They listened to how I wanted to approach matters, and advised and guided me smoothly through the process, protecting my interests but without causing hiccups. They were a pleasure to deal with and I really appreciated their support and advice through the process. I would definitely recommend them to others.

CEO of global company
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The swift and amicable approach they facilitated enabled my wife and I to move on without bitterness. I can highly recommend them for providing creative ideas, achieving results, and also being pleasant people to work with.

CEO of investment management firm
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Professional and efficient whilst being friendly and approachable, their knowledge and practical solutions proved invaluable.

City professional
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They kept me calm and resolute throughout the process, encouraging me to focus on the bigger picture. Their warmth, empathy and humour made the difficult process of divorce much more palatable. I am extremely grateful for the professional, attentive yet personal way they handled my case.

Danusha Singhvi - self employed business woman
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Withers’ family law team have acted on my behalf at various times since 2002. The division of assets were completed by 2003 and the process was straightforward. I do not think that this might have been the case if I’d gone elsewhere. They supported me again for the “clean break” settlement in 2011 and again the process was made to be uncomplicated. They have since helped with school and university fee issues.

Ex-spouse of hedge fund owner
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I have worked with the team at Withers on a very large number of cases over many years. There is no case which is too complex or challenging for them, drawing as they do on years of experience acting for high net worth individuals as well as in-house expertise in other fields of law such as trusts and reputation management. Coupled with the fact that they have offices internationally, it gives them a definite edge over their competitors.

Family law barrister, London

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Meet the team

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How the divorce and family team can help

Track record

Disentangling complex structures to achieve a settlement

We acted for the wife in OS v DS. Her husband had failed to make proper disclosure of his financial resources, which we therefore had to trace through a complicated network of corporate structures, mainly in Africa. In order to unearth the husband's true financial position we assisted in establishing an innovative court procedure so that the judge could carry out a 'preliminary/oral discovery' hearing to determine the relevant facts in this case. Following that hearing we were able to settle the case resulting in a positive outcome for our client. Whilst this procedure was created for the particular circumstances of our case, it has since been used in many other cases and is now known as an 'OS v DS hearing'.

Establishing fair division of assets on divorce

Miller v Miller is a seminal House of Lords decision that shaped the current law in relation to financial provision on divorce. This case established the three strands which should be considered in all future claims: needs, compensation and sharing. We represented Melissa Miller throughout these proceedings, and successfully defended her former husband's appeal, so that our client retained her £5 million settlement following their very short marriage.

Special contribution to a marriage's resources

We acted for advertising and marketing giant WPP's CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, in his divorce case, which is one of the very few in which the judges accepted the argument that his 'exceptional contribution' to the marriage's finances was sufficient to justify an unequal division of the couple's assets. Sir Martin was awarded 60% of the assets, with no ongoing maintenance payments.

Hong Kong team act in a landmark high value cross border divorce

A cross border team acted for an ultra high net worth client in an exceptionally complex divorce, involving company structures and multiple third parties, offshore trusts and multi million dollar assets in a number of jurisdictions. We obtained the highest ever award for interim maintenance in Hong Kong.

Successfully arguing division based on contribution

John Charman is a leading figure in the international insurance industry, and we represented him in his divorce. During their 27 year marriage the Charmans had accumulated assets of c£131 million. The family fortune was held directly and via a Bermuda-based trust. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision that Mr Charman's exceptional success in business should result in a 63/37% split in his favor.

The Hong Kong Court of Appeal rules that trusts are subject to division

In Kan Lai Kwan v Poon Lok To Otto, the law in relation to trusts was clarified and the principles in the English case of Charman were confirmed to be an appropriate precedent in Hong Kong. The court found that the trusts could be subject to division as, should the settlor request the trustees to make an advancement to him, they would be likely to do so.

Court of Appeal defence of credit crunch award

A property developer's business suffered huge losses when the financial crisis hit, and we acted for him in his divorce negotiations with his wife, heiress of a business empire. Our team helped the husband defend the allocation of an equal split of the couple's finances, plus an extra £5 million lump sum payment to the husband to cover half of his property losses.

Four year battle for full disclosure

We represented Lisa Tchenguiz in a lengthy, complex, high profile divorce which resulted in a change in the law on disclosure and confidentiality of documents in divorce proceedings; and also produced additional decisions in relation to the joinder of trust beneficiaries to financial proceedings on divorce. The Court of Appeal ruled that unauthorized access to a former spouse's personal documents breached a duty of confidentiality. The judgment has been described by some as a cheat's charter and an obstacle to transparency.

Use of European pre and postnuptial agreements clarified in the Hong Kong courts

A landmark divorce case in Hong Kong involved German pre and postnuptial agreements. The case confirmed that the principles set out in the English Supreme Court case of Radmacher, in respect of prenuptial agreements, would be an appropriate precedent for the Hong Kong courts, and that, if the parties fully understood the implications, they would most likely be bound to their agreements.

Highest child maintenance award secured in Hong Kong

We acted for the mother and child in Hong Kong under the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance, achieving for our client the highest award for such child maintenance to date.

The US-born son of a UK businessman

When he became engaged to a Swiss citizen, the son of a high-profile UK businessman asked us to help him obtain a British Passport and expatriate from the US. We were also asked to draft a prenuptial agreement. Timing was of the essence but as a global, full-service firm we created a team of immigration, family and private client lawyers to meet tight deadlines.

Achieving settlement to end maintenance payments

As our client approached retirement, following a long and distinguished career as a barrister, he applied to terminate the maintenance payments he had been ordered to pay to his first wife for life. His former wife sought a lump sum payment of £560,000 in lieu of ongoing maintenance. The case went to the Court of Appeal, who established that the potential claims of a second wife cannot take priority over the first wife's claims and ordered a payment of £215,000 (less than half the amount she initially sought).

Removal of a child from Hong Kong to the US

Our team led a case which reached the Hong Kong Court of Appeal concerning the issue of the removal of a child from Hong Kong to the US. This case was interesting because the orders in respect of the children had been made by the courts in Singapore where the children were born and where the father continued to reside. However, the mother and children had lived in Hong Kong for a number of years and therefore we sought an order through the courts there. The court reluctantly refused jurisdiction on the basis that it would not be in the children's best interest if there were multiple jurisdictions involved.

Appealing international relocation with children

Our client, who shared the care of his two children with his former wife, opposed her application to relocate to Canada permanently with them. We represented him in the Court of Appeal and successfully overturned the initial decision, so his former wife did not have permission to leave with the children. The decision marked an influential development in the court's approach to applications to relocate abroad with children. This followed C v C, an earlier decision in which Withers also acted, where we represented the father who successfully resisted the mother's application to permanently relocate with the children to the US.

Recognition of prenuptial agreements in Hong Kong

Sharon Ser took the lead in the ground breaking case of SPH v SA which went to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal concerning prenuptial and separation agreements, which resulted in the recognition that prenuptial agreements should be enforceable in Hong Kong.

Complex high value divorce leads to a change in the law in Hong Kong

We acted for the husband in a high value divorce, which involved a conflict in jurisdiction between Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China. The matter reached The Court of Final Appeal and led to a change in Hong Kong law, introducing new legislation to allow a party who had a divorce in another jurisdiction to seek a financial remedy in Hong Kong where applicable. This is an important measure protecting those who would be unfairly prejudiced by an overseas divorce.

Special contribution argument in record value case

We acted for Sir Chris Hohn in what was then the highest value divorce case. He had generated his wealth through huge success in investment management, and had also established a charitable foundation which achieved international recognition in its field. We successfully argued that the marital assets should not be equally divided, in part due to his 'special contribution' to their generation. Mrs Cooper-Hohn was awarded 36% of the total.

Divorce case dealing with trust, share valuation and non-matrimonial asset issues

We delivered a comprehensive result for the wife in X v X [2016]. We successfully argued that her husband’s interest in a trust should be considered a resource of his and included in the marital assets available for division. The case also involved complex issues of assessing the contributions made by the husband and the wife during the marriage, the valuation of shares in a listed company, and the extent of non-matrimonial assets.

Confirming that the welfare of children is paramount

We acted for the mother in her application for permission to relocate to Russia with the two children. This decision re-iterated what the Court of Appeal had said in MK v CK, that the only principle to apply is the welfare principle, but in this case the Court decided that our client should be given permission to relocate.

Protecting family wealth in a US-Canadian marriage

The child of a wealthy Canadian family moved to the United States and married. We advised the family on protecting their assets and created trust structures sufficiently flexible to grow with the child and the child's emergent new family needs, while avoiding inclusion in the child's US estate and minimizing a potential divorce settlement payout. This included optimizing various in-bound real estate investments as the family purchased, exchanged and extensively renovated properties.

Landmark Court of Appeal case concerning the importance of children's wishes

We acted on a landmark Court of Appeal case concerning the removal of children and which reviewed the law on habitual residence under the Hague Convention: LCYP v JEK. The case dealt with the importance of the children's wishes and removed the previous test in respect of the parent's agreement and intention.

Hong Kong Court of Appeal adopts English approach of equality of division

Rita Ku led the team on one of the most significant family law cases in Hong Kong in recent years, involving a divorced couple, where the wife was awarded half of the assets. The Hong Kong Court of Appeal threw out the ‘reasonable requirements' principle and adopted the ‘new approach' of equality of division, following the English decisions of White v White (2000) and Miller v McFarlane (2006). The case underlines the strong connection between the courts of Hong Kong and England & Wales.

Divorce involves a forum dispute between Hong Kong and Australia

We successfully acted for the husband to defeat the wife's application for a stay on the basis that Australia was the more appropriate jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal considered the factors the court should bear in mind when dealing with such challenges. At the time, it was a landmark case and is regularly quoted to this day on the topic of forum non conveniens.<br />

Complex divorce involving financial assets aquired prior to the marriage

Sharon Ser acted for the wife in an extremely complex financial case where the husband sought to argue assets in the 14 year marriage were acquired prior to the marriage and should be classed as non-matrimonial assets and excluded from the sharing principle. The Hong Kong Court of Appeal ruled that the assets had been sufficiently intermingled with the family expenses and that they should not be discounted completely.

Court of Appeal rules in favour of a wife, who secured 70% of the matrimonial assets

Sharon Ser led the team to the Court of Appeal acting for a wife in respect of an application to set aside an order for leave to appeal. This case at first instance involved the wife's application for a greater share of the matrimonial assets on the basis of compensation. She was successful in achieving 70% of the total matrimonial assets with periodical payments for 10 years. The wife appealed and the husband then sought leave to cross appeal although he was 51 days out of time. The Court of Appeal refused the husband's application for leave to appeal.

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