Men-only divorce law firms look set to be the latest import from America, and Britain’s first practice targeting fathers who feel hard done by in the family courts has set up in London.
Family law companies with all-male client lists have been growing in popularity in the US since the Nineties as fathers and husbands worry that women are more likely to get a better deal. One of these is Cordell & Cordell, which told divorcing husbands in America: “We’re going to help you keep the dollars you earned.” The firm opened a London branch this week.
Men are still unfairly represented in family courts in the UK. We recognised the need for this service back in 1990… Our goal is to bridge the gender gap that has been part of family law for too long now.
Joseph E Cordell, chief executive
David Pisarra, the founder of Men’s Family Law, another US law firm targeting husbands, has said firms such as his are “about empowering men, not bashing women”. But there is already concern from British family law experts that all-male firms will promote a false idea of an unfair legal system.
Susan Jacklin QC (pictured), chair of the Family Law Bar Association, is worried about men’s divorce firms pandering to concerns that the man will always get short-changed in court.
She said: “It’s a gimmick. It’s just a way of bringing in a certain sort of client.”
Ms Jacklin said it was “not true” that the family courts were biased against men. “The court’s focus is on the welfare of the child. There have been quite a few cases where fathers have not achieved contact for very sound reasons of child protection but they haven’t seen it that way.”
She believes that firms marketing themselves on the idea that fathers get a raw deal could be dangerous.
The premise is engendering distrust in the system and I think that’s unfortunate. It’s engendering a view that has no factual basis.
Susan Jacklin QC
Karim Assaad, the first divorce solicitor based in Cordell & Cordell’s London office since the company opened in the UK on Monday, disagreed. He said: “We should be looking for equal opportunities for men. It can’t be looked at differently.”
Jerry Karlin, the chairman of the charity Families Need Fathers, is more optimistic about the arrival of men-only law firms in Britain.
“Fathers can experience many difficulties in the family justice system, where they can often face an uphill battle to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children,” he said. “The introduction of law firms that specialise in supporting fathers is new for the UK, but I hope that they will be able to provide the specialist support that many dads need to be able to make their case in court.”
In America the phenomenon has come under criticism for being a potentially exploitative marketing tool.
In a comment piece for the American feminist blog Jezebel, Doug Barry wrote:
Divorce for men firms are about engendering in men a feeling that they’re being treated unfairly by a prejudiced legal system, and then galvanising them to actively fight for as much as they can hold on to. In some cases, that can be fairly characterized as ‘niche’ legal work, but, in others, it might also be called exploitative.
In Cordell & Cordell’s marketing material for the UK launch, the firm does not mention any evidence of bias in the family courts against men. Instead, it highlights how public opinion had sided with the mother in break-ups, quoting a YouGov survey which reveals that one in 10 Britons believes the mother should have the most rights over the custody of the child.
In the final quote of the press release, an unnamed spokesman cements the impression that it is entering into an area of British law where men lose out, by saying: “The launch of the London office is a fantastic opportunity for the firm to make a real difference and balance out the representation of men in the UK.”