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How to Split a Toaster: Nicole Phillips

Divorce Across the Pond: How Different Is It? with Nicole Phillips

Solicitors and Barristers and Judges, oh my!

Even though many of the foundations of our legal system stemmed from our country’s history with England, there are many differences in today’s family law. On today’s episode, senior associate solicitor and mediator Nicole Phillips joins Seth and Pete to talk about divorce in England and what’s different about it here in the US.

It’s not just the wigs (though we learn that no one in family law wears them – they’re saved for criminal cases and the like) and the fact that they’re called solicitors, not lawyers. The handling of a divorce case involves solicitors and barristers. Who does what?

How do you handle kids? Pets? What’s spousal maintenance? Why does it seem so much less antagonistic and litigious than here in the States?

There’s a lot to cover but it makes for an eye-opening conversation. So tune in!

Pete Wright: Welcome to How to Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships from True Story FM. Today, your toaster is heading across the pond.

Seth Nelson: Welcome to this show, everybody I’m Seth Nelson, and as always, I’m here with my good friend, Pete Wright. Today, we’re talking about one of our favorite things, jurisdiction. You and your former spouse live across state lines, do they do things a little different there? What if you’re facing a divorce 4,411 miles away from the great state of Florida, specifically, Tampa across the pond? For that, we turn to Nicole Phillips, a senior associate solicitor and mediator at Family Law in Partnership, a family law firm in London, England, God save the Queen. She handles all aspects of private family law, assisting in supporting clients who are navigating divorce or separation to resolve any financial or children issues that may arise. She’s here to talk to us about the divorce process in England. Nicole, welcome to The Toaster.

Nicole Phillips: Thank you.

Pete Wright: I cannot tell you how hard it is for me not to brag a little bit that Harry’s closer to me right now than he is to you. You didn’t know that this was going to be a whole podcast about the Royals. Seth is a big Royals guy.

Nicole Phillips: Oh, really? Is Harry your favorite Royal?

Seth Nelson: I actually don’t think I could name more than five Royals.

Pete Wright: You are in [inaudible 00:01:52] one, man. Queen, you got the Queen. That’s all.

Seth Nelson: I got the Queen.

Nicole Phillips: She’s the big character.

Pete Wright: Yeah, that’s the truth. All right. Seth, I’m going to turn to you to set up this conversation, because I think this is your favorite thing. I didn’t bring my jurisdiction bell, because I think I’d be ringing it the whole time we have this conversation. Why’d you want to have this conversation with Nicole today?

Seth Nelson: Because she’s amazing, let’s just start with that, full stop. Nicole is amazing. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with her on a case, which we’re not going to discuss today, but in that conversation, we had a lot of conversations, Nicole and I did, about how things work in England. How do they work in the States? Which states are different? We are both always translating what they did in the other jurisdiction into our own minds of how it works in our jurisdiction so we could understand it. I just thought this would be a fascinating conversation because, ultimately, laws are just made up. It’s where a bunch of people get together and agree, and then if they don’t agree, maybe a law gets passed. It becomes a statute, then the cases get decided interpreting the statutes, but they’re just made up; and therefore, depending on how law gets developed over time, they can take splits down that road and you might end up in vastly different places, though the genesis started at the same place. As we all know, we had a little issue with T many, many years ago. So we left England, but we took all of our law starting from England, and it’s really developed differently in all the different states in family law. We’re going to have Nicole on to talk about the differences and what happens over in the UK.

Pete Wright: That seems like a very big question. I turn to you, Nicole, how, when you’re walking somebody through who is completely ignorant of the divorce process, let’s go ahead and say, I’m not committing to this, but let’s say that person is me, where do you start? Say, I come to you and I say, "I need help. I need a separation. I need a divorce?"

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. It’s normally where most clients are when they come to Seth or I, they don’t have any idea about the divorce process because they probably haven’t done it before; some have, but most, I would say haven’t. the first key difference that Seth and I identified when we started discussing the differences between the U.S. and the English system were that in England, divorce and finances dealt with entirely separately, so they’re free standing proceedings. Whereas, I seem to recall, Seth, you saying that in the U.S., it’s all lumped together, including the children proceedings, so that’s a key area of difference that we identified.

Seth Nelson: You should see the look on Pete’s face right now like, "What are you talking about?"

Pete Wright: Yeah. I didn’t expect this look to hit me quite so early.

Nicole Phillips: When you separate from your partner, you’ve got to dissolve the marriage and that you do that by getting a divorce. The second thing most people want to do is sort out their financial arrangements, and basically de-link their financial ties from one another. You can do that also via the court system, but there are many other ways of doing that. Actually, in my practice, I try and steer people away from the courts just because it’s quite antagonistic, confrontational and expensive, so we at FLIP offer a lot of alternative dispute resolution outside of the court that can help people reach a financial settlement.

Pete Wright: That happens after the legal divorce is done.?

Nicole Phillips: So they each, they are started, they’re distinct processes, but they often run alongside each other that you have to trigger each separately. By starting the divorce, you don’t automatically start the financial process, which is a key difference, I think, between the U.S. and England.

Seth Nelson: So literally Pete, here’s what I hear. You, in England, as a lawyer could win every single divorce case, because your client comes to you and they say, "I want to get divorced" and you get divorced. You don’t have to deal with the money or the kids, and you go to the pub and you have a pint and you say, "I won."

Pete Wright: You might, dear listener, be wondering, "Why the hell is Seth still in Tampa? Why aren’t practicing in London?

Seth Nelson: It turns out I have a flight to catch.

Pete Wright: Okay. So are you as the family law solicitor, that’s right?

Seth Nelson: Yeah.

Pete Wright: Okay. Would you be the person to talk to about separating finances or is there a separate team?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. We deal with the financial side of divorce, as well as any children disputes that arise. But in England, very different to the U.S., we have a split legal profession. I’m a solicitor, which means that I speak to the client and prepare all the paperwork. I don’t actually speak on behalf of the client in court. I’m not an advocate, for that we have barristers who are trained to do advocacy in a court hearing. Whereas, I believe, Seth, which I’m is amazing, I have so much respect for the fact you do it all. You do the solicitor and the barrister side of things for your clients.

Seth Nelson: So the check that I sent Nicole has, obviously, Venmo has worked across the pond [inaudible 00:07:34].

Pete Wright: Yeah, it checked. Yeah, it cleared.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. Exactly.

Pete Wright: Everything’s [inaudible 00:07:35]. Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But let’s get this straight.

Pete Wright: Yes.

Seth Nelson: If I want to practice in a court of law in England, I have to become a barrister. Do I work with the solicitor? Do you work up the case and then give it to me, then I go argue it? How does that work?

Nicole Phillips: Exactly, so it’s all part of the team. If there are court proceedings, I as the solicitor, will take the client’s instructions and prepare the paperwork. But then just before a court hearing a few weeks, it gets handed over to the barrister who then goes before the judge and argues the case.

Seth Nelson: Oh, my God. I’m definitely going across the pond, because this is what I’m thinking, Pete.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: I don’t have to do any of the paperwork. I get handed it a few weeks before. I go to court. I lose, I get to say that the judge got it wrong or the solicitor got it wrong?

Pete Wright: Yeah. Right. [inaudible 00:08:29]

Seth Nelson: It’s total political-

Pete Wright: Deniability. Yes. Perfect.

Seth Nelson: Exactly. I’m loving this.

Pete Wright: I don’t know if you can hear from the sound of my voice that my mind is actively blown, so does the barrister work for you, for your firm?

Nicole Phillips: Exactly, actually. We instruct the barrister. I work at Family Law in Partnership acronym’s FLIP, and flip enters into the contract with the barrister. We instruct them on behalf of the client.

Pete Wright: So the barristers are like free agents. Is that-

Nicole Phillips: They’re freelanced. Yeah.

Pete Wright: Wow.

Seth Nelson: Wow.

Pete Wright: I had no idea.

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. Actually barristers work in what we call, they’re called chambers. That’s the term in England, and they’re these really often beautiful old buildings. They look a bit like Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and they just swirl away at wooden desks and prepare arguments, but don’t have as much contact daily with the client than solicitors do/

Pete Wright: My question then is one, and I’m sure you have this figured out, but the thing I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is the barrister coming into the case a few weeks before the case, having to go in and represent the case, if it’s a contentious case, what is the general-

Seth Nelson: They get up to speed. How do they get up to speed?

Pete Wright: Yeah, how do they get up to speed?

Nicole Phillips: It’s a good question. Before the court hearing, we, as solicitors, will write instructions to the barrister where we essentially send them all the key documents from the case. We write a little summary of what the case is about and the key information they need to know. We will also then tend to arrange a meeting, what we called a conference with the barrister and the client a week or few weeks before the court hearing to make sure that the case is properly prepared. That’s where the client will meet their barrister for the first time normally. Then ,you have the court hearing at which the case is argued by the barrister in front of a judge.

Seth Nelson: Will you ever go to court and just sit in the back?

Nicole Phillips: That’s what I always do there. I’m always in the back. I never speak.

Seth Nelson: Okay.

Pete Wright: So you don’t sit up at the table. You’re not a part of the active team. You don’t get to sit next to the barrister or anything like that?

Nicole Phillips: The barrister sits in, so the judge it at the very top on a raised platform, then the applicant, so the person that’s made the application, their barrister’s on the left hand side and behind their barrister sits the solicitor and the client next to each other on the row behind the barrister. On the right hand side is the respondent’s barrister, and behind them, the respondent and their solicitor, if they have one.

Seth Nelson: Got it.

Pete Wright: Wow. Okay.

Seth Nelson: Okay. You know I’ve been waiting for this, Pete.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Who gets to wear the wigs?

Nicole Phillips: I’m so sorry to disappoint you, nobody in family law gets to wear the wigs.

Pete Wright: Even the barristers?

Nicole Phillips: Wigless.

Pete Wright: Wigless?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: I’m devastated.

Nicole Phillips: I know .they do still do it in criminal law more, but because of the issues that I dealt with in family and the fact that it’s people sensitive personal information, it was felt that actually the wigs add a level of formality that maybe wasn’t needed, or would feel a bit alienating for the clients. Actually, I’m family law, no wigs. Sorry to disappoint you.

Pete Wright: Wow. Wow. It’s so humanized, I don’t know what to say. My entire world is being shattered.

Seth Nelson: I’ll just stay in Tampa. I’ll just stay in Tampa.

Nicole Phillips: Do you have wigs? Do you wear a wig?

Seth Nelson: No, no. None of us wear wigs. I think I would be held in-

Pete Wright: Well, not at work.

Seth Nelson: Right, exactly.

Nicole Phillips: What’s the court garb that you have to don?

Seth Nelson: The judges were wear just a black robe with no decoration. It’s actually by statute, by rule that they can’t have anything on it, other than just a black robe. Then, I will wear a suit and tie and the women attorneys typically wear a business suit. There are some in family court similar to England, it’s a little more relaxed, depending on the judge in the courtroom. Sometimes people will wear things a little bit more casual. The guys will always have ties on, but maybe it’s a sport coat as opposed to a suit, and the women may dress a little differently, as opposed to a professional business suit. Then sometimes, but rarely, more on Zoom, the judges might come in that same garb that the attorneys are wearing, and might not even have a robe on if it’s that issue.

Pete Wright: Recently, wasn’t there a judge caught wearing shorts or not wearing pants, a suit on top, and he stood up to close a door or something? I thought it was on the news somebody caught a recording of it.

Seth Nelson: I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s [inaudible 00:13:38] Zoom.

Pete Wright: So pants are optional and family court?

Seth Nelson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, which is what actually got people into this problem to start with.

Pete Wright: Odd. I want to back up a little bit because we talked about three major areas. There’s the divorce process. There’s the financial process, which are separate. You also indicated, you dropped the disputes over children. That sounded like, as you were talking about it, that that too might have been a separate process from the legal separation of the two parties. How are children handled?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. Well, children is dealt with entirely separately, so you can ask a solicitor to deal with your divorce and help you resolve your finances, and whether or not you involve them in anything to do with children is up to you. Actually, in England, the court takes a real backseat when it comes to children, because there’s a recognition that when parents work together to figure out the best arrangements for their kids, that’s what is best for the kids, because unresolved conflict between exes ex-parents, well, they’re still parents, but their ex-spouses is not helpful for the children who can flourish best if their parents are kind actively working together to co-parent them. Essentially, the court doesn’t get involved unless they’re asked to, I always encourage people if they’re having an issue resolving how their children are spending time with each of them after their separation to try other avenues before going to court. There’s mediation where the couple will be together and conversations facilitated by a mediator who could be legally trained, but might not be. they’re there to act as a neutral third party to help the parents have difficult conversations and try and [inaudible 00:15:36] work around.

Seth Nelson: Nicole, let me get this straight.

Nicole Phillips: Mm-hmm.

Seth Nelson: Am I understanding you correctly that there is no requirement to actually have a written parenting plan-

Nicole Phillips: Actively discouraged.

Pete Wright: Actively discouraged?

Nicole Phillips: Yes.

Pete Wright: The presumption of maturity on human adults in England blows my mind.

Seth Nelson: By statute, I am required to have a written parenting plan that has specific terms in said plan, and I have tried to skirt some of those specific terms and have had the plan rejected by the court.

Nicole Phillips: Wow. How did you find that’s helpful?

Seth Nelson: Oh yeah, because I make a lot more money then. Yes, it’s very helpful. Oh, no. It’s not helpful at all. So what the lawyers do is we tell all of our clients that the plan that is written and submitted to the judge, which the judge has to sign off on. But once the judge signs off on it, there’s two things to understand; this is the default if you guys cannot agree otherwise. We always encourage parents to be flexible, because what works for a two-year-old will be much different than a 12-year-old.

Nicole Phillips: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right? In my own life, when I was divorced, my kid was two-and-a-half years old. He just turned 18. We used, as a basis, three different schedules throughout that lifetime where we changed it based on what was going on in his life. We were always flexible when it came to holidays, an extra day here or there. I tell clients this, "Nobody cares if you get along. No one cares if you’re not following the plan." We’ve changed it many times. We didn’t call the lawyers, get it resubmitted to the court, get it signed. The idea is, in my world, is if you can get a plan, put it on the shelf and never think about it and focus on your kid and be mature like they do in England, then that’s what we should do.

Nicole Phillips: Wow. So it sounds like a hoop that everybody has to jump through, but not one that actually is that helpful in the long term, because as you say, arrangements for children will change over time. As they get older, it needs revisiting anyway, practically.

Seth Nelson: Not only is it a hoop, it makes it harder, because now you’re forcing people to make decisions that they might not have ever thought of before, but now it creates conflict. The law in Florida has changed, but when I got divorced, you had to say, "who was the primary parent." Imagine all the egos that get involved. When I got divorced, I told my wife, the mother of my child, "You can be primary parent. I’m not going to argue with you about what a bunch of old men in the legislature in Florida and some governor signed, because they’re not going to find whether I’m a primary, secondary," and I don’t even view parenting primary and secondary, "they’re not going to define my relationship with my child. I don’t care what this document says," But I used to go to trial to argue over who was primary because people wouldn’t let their egos get out of the way

Pete Wright: Seth, seriously, never have I felt more clear about how the laws are set up to incent the divorce industrial complex that feels like it exists here, when everything is something that ostensibly needs to go back into a plan, needs to go back to the lawyers, needs to go back to the court because of the way the laws were written. I’m curious if that assumption is accurate at all, because that’s certainly my view in hearing the difference in England.

Seth Nelson: I agree with that assumption, Pete. Michael Lundy and I, opposing counsel that we had on the show, talked about that we have an adversarial system and that is the exact wrong system to put people going through a divorce in.

Pete Wright: Right. Right.

Seth Nelson: How long do you have to be in England to be a resident to get a divorce there?

Nicole Phillips: Well, you have to physically, at least six months, but you can get a divorce based on your habitual residence or your domicile in the country.

Seth Nelson: Okay. I can advise them to move to England and call Nicole in six months.

Nicole Phillips: Well, it’s not that straightforward, though, because it’s [inaudible 00:20:17]

Pete Wright: You have to move to England, Seth. That’s a complicated process.

Nicole Phillips: Yes. Yeah.

Pete Wright: It might be an easier process than going through a divorce in Florida.

Seth Nelson: Yeah, truly.

Nicole Phillips: That is interesting, though. That’s interesting, because sounds like the legal process makes things more antagonistic than it does-

Pete Wright: Procedural-

Nicole Phillips: … deescalate things. I think even the English process does that to some extent, but it’s actually written in the statute here that there’s a no order principle when it comes to children. So the starting point is that no order is made unless it’s really needed, and that’s the principle that the courts don’t get involved unless they’re really asked to; whereas, you have the opposite presumption that they have to and they have to an agreement.

Seth Nelson: I think that’s amazing. My question though is, I deal a lot with mental health issues, kids not being safe because of alcoholism. Are those the type of issues where the court would get involved in England?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah, absolutely. There’s children aspects of separation are split into private and public law and where there are issues around safety, even where parents can’t afford to have representation, if the social workers of the state become involved and issue proceedings to protect that child in the family court, then there will be court proceedings. We have some state-funded legal advisors who will do that work.

Seth Nelson: Let me pause you on that. We call that in Florida dependency court.

Nicole Phillips: All right.

Seth Nelson: When there’s some issues with the kids, the state agency that’s supposed to be protecting children, it’s got to be pretty bad for them to get involved. You can call them, they’ll go look. Usually, they say, "Oh, there’s nothing going on here." But if there is something going on, they can bring what’s called a dependency action, which taken to its final conclusion either ends up with a plan that the parents have to get off the drugs and show that they can be a parent again, or ultimately, put the kid up for adoption, or the parents can lose their rights to raise their children. Those are the two, and the goal is always to reunify them, of course. But if the parents can’t get there, then ultimately, they can lose their children. Is that the same in the UK?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah, that sounds pretty similar. It’s not work that I do, but yes, that does sound like a similar approach to I guess protecting children and potentially needing to put them into, we call it being in care where they’re care for people and their parents appointed by the state.

Pete Wright: We opened this conversation with a bit of a joke about jurisdictions, because that’s something we deal with here. Moving across state lines, things can be sometimes vastly different. Is England set up jurisdictionally like you in London, can you handle somebody across the breadth of England or England Wales? What is your jurisdiction?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah, England and Wales. [inaudible 00:23:34]

Pete Wright: Oh, that’s it. I nailed it in one.

Nicole Phillips: Yeah.

Pete Wright: All right. [inaudible 00:23:40].

Nicole Phillips: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: [inaudible 00:23:40] That’s pretty good, Pete. Super [inaudible 00:23:40] in one. Yeah. I don’t think you could have named Scotland or Ireland, but that’s okay.

Pete Wright: No, I didn’t want to get into the whole, because immediately my thought was, "Well, Scotland, Ireland. What about the whole United Kingdom? Where does it ever stop?

Nicole Phillips: It’s so interesting that in America, every state has a different jurisdiction. Is that right? So there must be-

Seth Nelson: Yeah.

Nicole Phillips: … must become very complicated, if people living between states and how does that all work?

Seth Nelson: Because then we have what’s called the UCCJEA, The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and that will decide what state has jurisdiction. Then you have to use that state’s laws.

Pete Wright: What’s the longest acronym you can come up with, Nicole?

Nicole Phillips: We have some bad acronyms, actually. Lawyers love an acronym.

Seth Nelson: Oh, yes.

Nicole Phillips: [inaudible 00:24:29] Children hearing is called FHDRA, which makes no sense.

Pete Wright: Wow. You really had to get the guttural action going in there, FHDRA.

Nicole Phillips: What was it? First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.

Seth Nelson: Ding, ding, ding. She wins the prize on that one.

Pete Wright: She does, that’s fantastic. Okay. Culturally speaking, the divorce rates are much lower in the UK than, I believe, here. Do you think the way the legal system is set up has any impact on divorce rates? How do people view divorce there?

Nicole Phillips: Interesting. Well, I think the divorce rates just show one aspect of this, because the number of people getting married is going down, it’s reducing, so fewer people are getting divorced, but it doesn’t mean that fewer couples are separating.

Seth Nelson: Yeah, so that’s interesting. I’ve got two questions. One, I want to finish this thought and then I want to see if the emotional aspects of the divorce are similar in the UK on what we deal with here. But on this front, since we have the same in the U.S., less people are getting married or they’re getting married later, but they’re having children, so that still gives me things to do because I have to go to court and do a paternity case and have to do this parenting plan and get it submitted to the court. I still have to run child support guidelines, because there’s a financial obligation to support your children, but I wouldn’t have to deal with the normal marital financial disputes of dividing assets and liabilities, equitable distribution or alimony. In the UK, if people aren’t getting married and they have children and the court has a no order policy, what do you do?

Nicole Phillips: So, good question. In England, we actually have a different system for resolving finances where the couple is unmarried, and most lawyers in this area acknowledge that the law is not fit for purpose, because there isn’t really a targeted law to help people who are unmarried separate and sort out their finances in a non-cumbersome way. You have to just rely on property law as if the couple weren’t even married or even in an intimate relationship. Then, we also have some legislation to ensure that children are financially looked after in the same way that you just described. That can extend to both capital and income payments towards children, but there, the law isn’t really well targeted towards unmarried couples who split up and have children, so there is a lot of pressure. Well, family lawyers in England have been campaigning for a long time to change that, to get some more targeted laws to help that sector of society, which is growing because more and more people are having children without getting married and then splitting up.

Pete Wright: What about on the other side of the relationship spectrum? We’ve had a number of conversations on this show about gray divorce, kids leave, living sometimes having long marriages and divorcing at a much older age. Are you seeing any notable trends there?

Nicole Phillips: I think there is a key time that a couple may think about splitting up. I think through the life cycle of a marriage, the key stresses are young children coming into the frame. I think that can be a really difficult time for a marriage. Then, as the couple get older, children may be leaving the nest and then two people finding that maybe they don’t have as much in common as they did before or wanting different things. I guess also, people live so much longer now than they did before, so people can still have three or four really long meaningful relationships or marriages of 10 to 20 years, that’s the way people are living more these days rather than being with one person for 70 or 80 years. I think that’s the reality; maybe not 70 or 80. People aren’t tending to live to 100. [inaudible 00:29:05]

Pete Wright: They get married very young in England, actually, so that’s-

Seth Nelson: Well, the Queen, how long was she married till her husband died? That’s a-

Pete Wright: A long time.

Seth Nelson: … long, long time. In the U.S., there’s about 44% divorces. In the UK, it’s about 33%. When those people are going through a divorce, do you find the same type of emotional aspects that sometimes people get paralyzed with the thought of going through it, so they just can’t make decisions, and then they finally get to the point of making the decision? It all has to happen right away. Is there still this fighting over kids, even though there’s no court orders? Do people run up debt or steal money or hide money and cut people off from support? These Are a Few of My Favorite Things song is going through my head that happen on a daily basis in the world of divorce in Tampa, Florida.

Nicole Phillips: Yes. I guess in answer to your question, divorce is a really tough time in people’s lives and you don’t always see the best side of people. I tend to think on the whole things are improving. We actually, in England have just bought in as of April of this year no- fault divorce. The process used to be that in order to get a divorce, one person had to blame the other, unless they had been living separately for two years. We’ve done away with that system, which is brilliant, because that would start things off in an antagonistic, blaming way, when actually, we all know that people separate for so many reasons that go way beyond something you could just summarize in five points in a legal document. Saying it’s someone’s fault and not the other is not really a helpful way to start that process because it gets people riled up. All the emotional research in this area shows that children are best served if their parents are on the same page and they co-parent effectively and cooperatively that helps children flourish into the future, so it’s brilliant that we have recently changed the law in respect to divorce. We now have a no- fault system.

Seth Nelson: That’s what we have in Florida, but in our petition for divorce, there’s certain things that are required and we have to state that there are irreconcilable differences. I always laugh when there is a celebrity divorce and they file and the newspaper, or the social media, or the media gets the divorce petition, and they say "They filed because there’s irreconcilable differences." I’m like, that is in every single divorce petition required by the statute in every case in Florida, but that’s the juiciest thing that’s in there, and so they [inaudible 00:32:04].

Pete Wright: Gossip journalists don’t know the law, generally.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: That’s just the top line.

Seth Nelson: Exactly.

Nicole Phillips: Well, so who doesn’t divorce because we reconcilable differences?

Pete Wright: Sort of called the divorce [inaudible 00:32:14] Right. What is the mindset on alimony, child support, those sorts of post-divorce financial arrangements?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. We have a system where you can bring a claim to both of those if there are children or there’s grounds for, we call it spousal maintenance, rather than alimony, but it’s the same concept as-

Pete Wright: It’s so weird. My wife actually calls our relationship spousal maintenance. That’s weird. That’s one of the differences that I’ve noticed.

Nicole Phillips: Yeah. It’s actually very discretionary and it’s hard to predict spousal maintenance, actually. It’s a hard area to advise on. I don’t know if it’s the same for the U.S., but we don’t have a formulaic system when it comes to alimony or spousal maintenance. It’s a needs-based system, so you have to make an assessment of what one person needs and what the other can afford to pay. Obviously, needs is a subjective concept, so that can be difficult to ascertain.

Seth Nelson: My mother taught me there’s a difference between needs and wants-

Nicole Phillips: Okay.

Seth Nelson: But no, currently in Florida we have a same system, need and ability to pay. There is a legislation that’s waiting to get signed by the governor or the governor allow it to become law that would turn it into more a formulaic system, but I agree with you. As it sits today, it’s extremely discretionary and it’s hard to predict and it makes it very difficult then to advise clients on what a potential outcome would be and how much we want to fight about this or that. Sometimes I think it comes down to, does the presentation of the evidence, including how much sympathetic or likable your client is compared to the other party, judges are human. They like to give things to people that think are doing the right things.

Pete Wright: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 10% of children live with a parent with an alcohol use disorder.

Seth Nelson: This is an alarming statistic as a family law professional who deals with custody cases regularly.

Pete Wright: Finding the balance between the child safety and helping the child maintain a relationship with both parents is one of the hardest things to navigate. Add in the he said/she said phenomenon that happens with divorcing couples who often weaponize alcohol use against one another, and the situation is even more difficult.

Seth Nelson: All of this is why Soberlink has been one of the most important tools for my clients dealing with these issues. Soberlink’s Remote Alcohol Monitoring tool has helped over 500,000 people prove their sobriety and provide peace of mind regarding the child’s safety. Soberlink helps keep the focus on the best interest of the child, which is really the most important part in the divorce case dealing with children. I’ve teamed up with Soberlink to create a parenting planning guide to help people going through divorce that involves alcohol and children.

Pete Wright: You can download it today at If you take a look and you think you’re ready to order Soberlink, just mention How to Split a Toaster for $50 off their device price.

Seth Nelson: Our thanks to Soberlink for sponsoring How to Split a Toaster.

Pete Wright: All right. We had, just as an aside, one of the things that gives me a great ajuda is that in the U.S. legal system pets are considered property. How does England consider the family dog?

Nicole Phillips: The same. It’s sad, isn’t it?

Pete Wright: Okay. Well, we have a whole episode dedicated to pets and divorce and I need to go listen to it to give me comfort. What is the thing, as you sit here talking to Seth and arguably me, what is the thing that you find blows your mind the most about the American divorce family law system?

Nicole Phillips: I think it’s really interesting that everything has to be dealt with by the court. I think it’s quite paternalistic, that stance that the judges know best and need to get involved in, because it’s [inaudible 00:36:47]

Seth Nelson: Let’s be very clear. [inaudible 00:36:49]

Nicole Phillips: [inaudible 00:36:49] together, they nothing to do with it. So why when they get divorced, do they need to stick their noses and make all these arrangements?

Seth Nelson: Oh, Nicole, the statute says the judges know best-

Pete Wright: The judges.

Seth Nelson: The judges certainly believe they know best. Even when they get appealed in the appellate court overrules them, they’re very annoyed by that.

Nicole Phillips: I bet. I think that’s the big difference. Actually, financial outcome wise, there are quite a lot of similarities I’ve realized between the systems, but it’s actually just the system itself, I think that’s quite different. Actually, in England, because it’s expensive, judges are paid for by the government, there is a push to try and keep as much out of court as possible. It doesn’t sound like that’s happening so much in the U.S.

Seth Nelson: No. I think we’re a very a litigious society. This is going to sound bizarre, I guess. This just popped into my head though, Pete, because when we file all this stuff with the court, because we’re required to, the government, the clerk of the court maintains these documents. But if you do a financial arrangement that’s not required to go to the court, where are they kept?

Nicole Phillips: Although the financial arrangement can be decided by the couple, the agreement that’s drawn up, which is called a consent order, basically like the contract setting out the terms of the agreement, in order to make that legally binding, it does have to be endorsed by a judge. But where a couple have come to an agreement and provided it’s within the bounds of reasonableness, a judge normally does sign that off, so it just tends to be a paper exercise. No one has to go to court for that. You just lodge the paperwork, and if a judge deems the outcome to be reasonable, it will be signed off. But a couple doesn’t have to do that, so I think there are probably lots of people who have reached agreements direct financially, and they’re not legally binding, but they will never bother to instruct lawyers to go through that paper process. But then, until someone tries to renig on the agreement, I guess they tick along as they were,

Pete Wright: That’s amazing, and it just sounds like there are so many pieces, another nice parallel, so many pieces of the process that are defined in statute that people just, "Let’s just pretend that’s not there. As long as nobody’s complaining, we’re just going to pretend we’re not going to deal with this."

Seth Nelson: That’s how most people deal with me, Pete.

Pete Wright: I think that’s right. That’s [inaudible 00:39:25] exactly right.

Seth Nelson: Let’s pretend he’s not here.

Pete Wright: I actually have that in my contact list for you, Seth Nelson, pretend he’s not there. That’s the title. Hey, this has been fantastic, Nicole. Thank you so much for joining us for this show. You have been eye-opening, illuminating conversation.

Nicole Phillips: Thanks for having me.

Seth Nelson: Nicole, where can people find you in the UK if they have a burning family law question?

Nicole Phillips: I am at Family Law in Partnership. You can find my profile on our website and we are in Central London, and my email address is available there. That’s probably the best way to contact me. I do have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it hugely, so I’m still old- fashioned, the email’s the best place to get me.

Pete Wright: We will put the link to the firm in the show notes. If you’re curious, it’s at I love that we’ve got a referral link now from Tampa to London. That just delights me, it warms my heart that we’ll have that there. Thank you so much, Nicole, for joining us on the show today.

Nicole Phillips: Thank you. Have a great day.

Pete Wright: Seth, you doing okay? Have you learned enough today?

Seth Nelson: Oh, I’m done. I’m-

Pete Wright: Yeah, hang it up.

Seth Nelson: I’m booking my flight.

Pete Wright: Yep.

Seth Nelson: I’m not going to buy a wig.

Pete Wright: Nope, nope. You’re good there.

Seth Nelson: I’m going to have Nicole tee up the cases for me-

Pete Wright: And then head to the pub-

Seth Nelson: … and have a client conference meeting three weeks before I have to go in front of the family law court.

Pete Wright: I feel like this is your retirement plan right now, like this is going to ease you into the fields, the fields of gray.

Seth Nelson: How do you become a lawyer real quick?

Nicole Phillips: Yeah, you do.

Seth Nelson: Oh geez, I might be out.

Nicole Phillips: I’m sure you’d pass with flying colors. You’ve got all the skills already.

Seth Nelson: Oh, you’re very kind, Nicole. That Venmo is still working [inaudible 00:41:22]

Pete Wright: Still good. Still good. Well, thank you so much Nicole Phillips, and thank you, everybody for downloading and listening to this show. Don’t forget if you have questions for us, for Seth, that you would like to get your legal and divorce questions answered, let’s just say divorce questions, divorce legal questions, not just any legal question, please head over to and you can submit your question there. It will come straight to us on the show. Link in the show notes, so you don’t have to remember that whole thing, and we will get your question on the show. We appreciate all the questions that come in and look forward to answering yours. Thank you, again, Nicole Phillips and Seth Nelson, America’s favorite divorce attorney. On behalf of all of them and me, Pete Wright, we’ll see you next week right here on How to Split a Toaster, a divorce podcast about saving your relationships.

Outro: Seth Nelson is an attorney with Nelson Koster Family Law and Mediation, with offices in Tampa, Florida. While we may be discussing family law topics, How to Split a Toaster is not intended to, nor is it providing legal advice. Every situation is different. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please seek your own legal counsel with an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Pete Wright is not an attorney or employee of Nelson Koster. Seth Nelson is licensed to practice law in Florida.

Seth Nelson is a Tampa based family lawyer known for devising creative solutions to difficult problems. In How to Split a Toaster, Nelson and co-host Pete Wright take on the challenge of divorce with a central objective — saving your most important relationships with your family, your former spouse, and yourself.
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