Ayesha Vardag, named “Britain’s top divorce lawyer” and dubbed the “Diva of Divorce”, is the go-to lawyer for all matrimonial matters should you want an indomitable fighter in your corner.
One of the very few family lawyers to receive The Times’ accolade “Lawyer of the Week”, Ayesha won the biggest case in the history of English family law with an 8-1 Supreme Court victory in the famous Radmacher case to make prenuptial agreements work in England. She has been called “one of the star lawyers making London the divorce capital of the world”.
Ayesha began her career having read law at Queens’ College, Cambridge, with a Duke of Edinburgh award for membership of the Inner Temple. Later, Ayesha was a Cambridge Wiener Anspach scholar for a Masters in European Law at the Université Libre Brussels and worked extensively on expert research projects at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and at the UN (IAEA) Legal Division in Vienna. Ayesha was trained initially as a finance solicitor at the global City law firm Linklaters (London and Moscow) where she became the leading specialist at 26 in nuclear energy law. She was then hired by the New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges in London then transferred across to the Bar. Having experienced her own divorce first-hand she was hired away from the Bar by her then divorce lawyer, Raymond Tooth (the original “Rottweiler” of divorce). Ayesha took the step of striking out and setting up her own, unique firm in 2005.
Vardags is an elite matrimonial and family law firm specialising in big money, high-profile and cutting-edge cases often with a cross-border dimension. Ayesha, Managing Director of Vardags, is supported by Catherine Thomas (director) and Mariam Muzaffar (director-elect) and assisted by a team of highly specialised matrimonial lawyers. Ayesha’s academic past and varied legal career coupled with personal experience is what has helped her to set Vardags apart from the rest. Ayesha offers her clients a different experience of matrimonial law given her City based deal orientating negotiating skills, hard hitting litigation experience and her dual-qualification as both solicitor and barrister of the Inner Temple. This experience allows Ayesha particular proficiency in selecting the most appropriate legal team and barrister for each and every case. Vardags, for instance, have an excellent relationship with the leading family set, 1 Hare Court. This has been developing over 14 years since Ayesha undertook a mini-pupillage under Nicholas Mostyn QC, now a renowned High Court judge. It is, most of all, however, the firm’s strategic intellectual grasp of the law and sheer determination which allows it to push the boundaries of the law and try to make it what it can and should be rather than what has been in the past. Vardags is a firm which prides itself upon its youth and dynamism, its intellectual strength, its tenaciousness and creativity and its absolute readiness to go the extra mile for its clients.
Ayesha describes a “feeding frenzy” in her market due to the UK’s generous rulings on divorce and says that there are a “vast number of people profiting from the conditions”. Both Ayesha’s background and leadership of the firm has led her to represent many international and well-known clients. For instance, it has been reported that Ayesha represented Michelle Young in the complex matter reported by the media as the “Brewster’s Millions” case and Nivin El Gamal in respect of Sheikh Ahmed Al Makhtoum of Dubai. Ayesha also represented the well-known reported case FS v JS, one of the first multi-million cases since the notorious House of Lords decision in 2006 Miller v Miller  UKHL 24.
. Vardags attracts cases for and against both high profile, celebrity and royal/aristocratic clients but also successful city entrepreneurs and city professionals. Many involve an international element, in the context of resident non domiciled status in the UK in its capacity as an on-shore tax haven, and can be extremely complex. The firm has pioneered with former McKinsey and former INSEAD commercial consultants (under Stephen Bence) to shed light on both the complicated structures and company valuations in order to provide crucial insight into the financial aspects of a divorce at the highest level.
Ayesha says that her business has grown exponentially as her clients feel that she delivers “a more personal, proactive, thinking service” – ‘our clients know we’ll go the extra mile to make sure they get the best possible result”. When it comes to high net worth divorce cases, “people want someone to fight on their behalf, to win… someone who is strong and confident and may look slightly intimidating to the other side”. And Ayesha plays the part. “Chanel suits day-to-day, and pinstripes when in court so that others take you seriously”. Her client’s opponents have unfortunately learned the hard way. The firm is established at the prestigious Bell House (Bell Yard), and has the feel of the private home, offering comfort and luxury to clients who, in their time of need, prefer not only tough and talented lawyers in the court room but also sympathetic and compassionate individuals who will tackle cases with common sense and sensitivity.
Ayesha’s most notable case, that of Granatino v Radmacher brought about historic change in the law. The case was seen by the legal profession as a test of whether pre-nuptial agreements were applicable in law in England and Wales. Pre-nuptial agreements are enforceable in many countries but they have never been binding in England and Wales. The Supreme Court ruled that in the right case such prenuptial agreements can have decisive or compelling weight if deemed fair. The ruling has been hailed as a judgement for a modern society, but there are some who believe it will significantly damage the financially weaker party in divorce. If that party, normally the wife, is held to the terms of a pre-nuptial they may be deprived of a considerable chunk of the couple’s wealth.
Ms. Radmacher, who was present at the Supreme Court for the ruling, said afterwards: “I am really pleased with the ruling but saddened at the four-year process that brought us to this point.
“I am delighted that Britain has upheld fairness. It is important to me that no-one else should have to go through this.”
Mr. Granatino, a French investment banker who became an Oxford University researcher, and his German former wife signed their pre-nuptial in 1998. They spent most of their life together in Chelsea, West London, until their divorce in 2007. Ms. Radmacher’s former husband had agreed not to make any claims on her fortune if they split up, but was awarded £5.85m by a High Court judge in 2008.
Ms. Radmacher challenged that decision and judges at the Court of Appeal agreed that the couple’s pre-nuptial contract should have been taken into account. The Appeal Court had agreed that Ms. Radmacher, thought to be worth £100m, should be protected by the terms of the German marriage contract. Mr. Granatino was fighting to get that ruling overturned.
The Court of Appeal slashed his lump sum payment to about £1m and Mr. Granatino also received a £2.5m fund for a house, which would return to Ms. Radmacher when the younger of their two daughters, aged 10 and seven, reaches 22.
Mr. Granatino said being forced to accept the smaller settlement would leave him in financial ruin and he asked the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
In a later statement, Ms. Radmacher said she believed a pre-nuptial agreement was a “natural part of the marriage process” and said “for Nicolas and me, in our homelands – France and Germany – these agreements are entirely normal and routine.”
“We made a promise to each other that, if anything went wrong between us, both of us would walk away without making financial claims on each other. The promise made to me was broken…I know some people think of pre-nuptial agreements as being unromantic, but for us it was meant to be a way of proving you are marrying only for love.”
Following the ruling, the justices said, as published on the Supreme Court’s website, “it will be natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them” Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, said the courts would still have the discretion to waive any pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement if it was ‘unfair’.
The Law Commission report on pre-nuptial agreements is due to report in 2012 and will determine whether legislation should be enacted to codify the law on pre-nuptial agreements.
Vardags practice areas include: prenuptial, postnuptial and cohabitation agreements, finance and property on divorce, civil partnership dissolution or cohabitation breakdown, financial provision for children, child residence/contact and domestic injunctions.
Ayesha a multi-linguist herself is able to offer a team who can work in French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Urdu as well, of course, English, in the context of a highly international practice.
The Vardags office directly overlooks the East side of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, in the heart of the legal district in Central London, walking distance or a short cab ride from both the City and the Law Courts.
Bell House, 8 Bell Yard, The Strand, London WC2A 2JR
T: +44 207 404 9390
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