Bill and Melinda Gates went public last month with their decision to separate after 27 years of marriage. It is thought that they intend to divorce and have reportedly decided to settle their finances out of court.
The multi-billionaires have apparently reached a mutual and private agreement as to how their large asset base is to be divided. Chances are that this is as a result of a carefully thought out process, over a period of time, with the assistance of specially trained lawyers.
As a family law practitioner, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of separating couples during the pandemic. I have also witnessed delays in the court process for those couples who have chosen to litigate financial matters, which is as a direct result of the pressure of the lockdown restrictions upon the court and tribunal system.
Separating spouses have more recently favoured attempts to settle matters out of court to save not only delay, but also the significant costs of litigation. This has allowed them to communicate more positively, which for those with children is a must going forwards, and have more control over any final settlement.
In some circumstances it is necessary to issue proceedings, which is the very reason why the process is there – to assist people in obtaining a remedy.
It is worth knowing that there are number of alternatives to litigation available. It is important, however, that each party has the benefit of one another’s full and frank financial disclosure before considering a settlement.
Parties can attempt mediation with an impartial and qualified lawyer, or a round table meeting with their respective lawyers present. There are sometimes local pilots, which can offer an alternative to litigation, where a barrister might be used as if he/she were sitting as a Judge in financial remedy proceedings. The legal profession has become more creative than ever over the past 12 months, which is supported by the judiciary even when in proceedings, if it results in a cost effective and swift financial settlement for those involved.
It is important to take legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity following a separation in order to consider all possible options available.