Divorce and family law are areas that, as witnessed by the team at Cordell & Cordell, still suffer from significant stereotypical views of men.
This historical mindset continues to play a substantial role in the outcome of family and divorce proceedings.
The catalyst behind the work of the entire team at Cordell & Cordell is constantly striving towards the fair legal representation of men.
A partner in the firm with extensive experience of representing men and fighting their cause, Barbara Johnson-Stern speaks to us about the legal landscape and her perspective on fighting for a level legal playing field for men, as well as the obstacles she faces whilst battling for fair legal representation.
1.) In your experience, what stereotypes are faced by men and how does this perception impact settlements?
Men are stereotyped as not being interested in the lives of their children. They are also stereotyped based on the perception that their financial needs are secondary to those of their partners. They are seen as being more resilient and having access to resources that their partners don’t.
2.) What are your views on support for women getting a divorce vs support for men?
I think there should be no difference in how we treat the wage earner or non-wage-earning spouse. I think they treat the two very differently. Maintenance awards tend to be outdated. Regardless of the sex, the dependency that built up during the course of the marriage should be the bigger factor, whether that is a male or a female.
3.) In your experience, what percentage of male clients suffer from depression and other mental health issues as a result of going through a divorce?
In my experience, men rarely discuss these sorts of issues. Men don’t really reach out or acknowledge the emotional side of divorce, as a general rule. It’s just not part of the lawyer–client relationship in my experience. There’s a lot of pressure.
The stereotypes regarding men not seeing the hurt or sadness or fear of the situation are real, and they haven’t brought it to me in my experience. For women, it becomes completely different and they bring emotion to things. They want to talk about the wrong that has been done to them.
4.) What frustrations do you regularly encounter in your position?
My biggest frustration is how we deal with domestic violence in these relationships, and the stereotypes that we encounter in these situations. I think our biggest failure with regard to men is how we deal with domestic violence allegations in divorce; the burden of proof is so light. We don’t shed light or challenge women in these situations. I understand the challenges that women face in these situations, but some of these men are being accused of so much without proof. It’s so easy for the women to gain traction.
5.) How would you sum up your views on the treatment of men by the UK legal system, and are there any differences between the UK and the US in this regard?
I find them impressively similar. I find they are organised and nuanced enough in legal situations. The difficulty is that people are coming to the table with all of these perceptions. We pave a harder road at Cordell and we embrace it. It is so much harder to represent men than women. The US tends to use hired experts when it comes to children and the like. The UK has those experts working for the state.
5.) Do you feel women have a sense of entitlement in divorce cases?
Women often come to the table thinking that the only thing that will change in their lives following a divorce is that their husband is no longer in it. They come to the table thinking they are entitled to a level of support and that while they maintain their standard of living it will be supported.
6.) Where would you like to see the legal landscape shift to in the next 2–4 years with regards to men in divorce and child custody hearings?
I would like there no longer to be shock and awe when it comes to men getting custody. I would like maintenance to be decided by the choices in the marriage rather than the stereotype of women automatically getting all the funds.