Divorce & Separation: Protecting Reputations

FLiP Associate Grace Lawrence discusses the ways high-profile individuals can manage publicity and protect their reputations on divorce.

With a shift towards transparency in the Family Division of the High Court, authorised media representatives are likely to be permitted to attend court and report publicly on what they see and hear, and have access to certain case filings. Further, it seems financial remedy judgments will increasingly be published in full and without anonymisation, save that any children will continue to be granted anonymity.

For some couples, the risk of publication of their financial dispute in the press is prohibitive and prompts settlement of the case. When Princess Diana’s younger brother, Earl Spencer divorced Countess Spencer in 2009, the couple made an application to exclude the media from the final court hearing. The couple reached a settlement in relation to their finances within 48 hours of the application being rejected.

Reputation management – 5 tips for managing adverse publicity

1. Parties should try to settle their disputes away from the courts to preserve confidentiality. They might want to enter into Arbitration which is effectively a private court hearing. The parties pay a legally qualified Arbitrator to act as their “Judge” and the Arbitrator makes a decision which is binding on them in effectively the same way as a court order. Arbitration is to the court what BUPA is to the NHS. Crucially, both the process and the outcome of Arbitration are confidential and the process tends to be a lot quicker than going through the family courts.

2. Wealthy individuals with a public profile should engage a Reputation Manager promptly following their split and prior to any divorce proceedings being issued. Reputation Managers can help to control the narrative in the media by liaising with press contacts and shaping any public statements.

Andrew Leach, Strategic Communications Specialist at Hudson Sandler, comments: “Reputation managers can also audit any publicly available information e.g. Companies House filings, previous articles about the parties, to anticipate potential story development and develop mitigation messaging. In addition, they provide a point of contact for media who will otherwise directly approach the parties”.

3. Parties going through a public divorce should consider deleting their social media accounts. The spotlight will be on them, and journalists will sift through their historic posts for follow-up stories and glamourous images posted online will provide click-bait material for further articles.

4. Parties in financial court proceedings should think twice before courting the media. The High Court is more likely to permit publication of details relating to their financial case where the parties have manipulated the press to fight their corners. The court is also more likely to permit the media to report the details of a case where one party is guilty of litigation misconduct. Last year, Sir Frederick Barclay was ordered to pay Lady Hiroko Barclay sums totalling £100m following their divorce. In the course of the court proceedings, Sir Frederick Barclay disobeyed court orders. He failed to produce documents and answer questions, and he also sold his luxury yacht and applied the equity for his own use. Mr Justice Cohen said that Sir Frederick Barclay’s misconduct “should not be allowed to pass completely under the radar”. He therefore revealed certain details of the parties’ financial dispute and Sir Frederick’s misbehavior in a public judgment.

5. High profile individuals should bear in mind that even if the court makes a Reporting Restrictions Order restraining the media from publishing certain details, the High Court has no power over foreign media i.e. the order applies to UK publications only. In the age of the internet and anonymous posts, the Reporting Restrictions Order may therefore be of limited use.

This article first appeared on the Tatler Address Book and is reproduced by kind permission. Read the article on the Tatler Address Book here

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