Divorce attorney Ayesha Vardag: ‘My environment is steeped in emotions’

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Ayesha Vardag is aware of the solution to a prolonged marriage: separate bedrooms.

As one particular of the UK’s foremost divorce legal professionals, and married 2 times, she is some thing of an authority. Her new house, a seven-bedroom Renaissance villa in a 13-acre park outdoors Florence, definitely affords the area for her and her partner to preserve the aristocratic tradition of specific chambers.

“It’s wonderful. You can just disappear if another person is getting annoying. I’m sure it’s the rationale our relationship has managed to endure, whilst my other [relationships] didn’t”, she says, sipping Franciacorta on a lapis lazuli-blue velvet sofa.

Her agency Vardags is the go-to position for footballers, billionaires and Middle Japanese royalty who are ending their marriages, famously securing a £64m divorce offer for Pauline Chai, wife of Laura Ashley boss Khoo Kay Peng.

Vardag, 53, was dubbed Britain’s prime divorce law firm by the Legislation Society in 2010 immediately after a landmark Supreme Courtroom circumstance that resulted in prenuptials turning out to be enforceable in England and Wales.

She tends to acquire on only circumstances wherever the belongings in dispute are £100m-moreover. When each sides seek Vardags’ illustration, it is first come initially served.

She and her husband Stephen Bence, the chief government of her organization and chairman and co-founder of data supplier Beauhurst, have operated remotely for considerably of the earlier 6 or seven years from Dubai, in between in-person journeys to London.

The villa was beforehand an gatherings location leasing for €9,000 a day and came absolutely furnished: “I simply cannot get any credit rating for it,” claims Vardag © Stefan Giftthaler for the FT

With lockdowns originally placing break-ups on maintain (they later on spiked), the pandemic brought “immense stresses” for the company, she claims. But in the end, it enabled most of the far-strewn spouse and children of 7 young children and stepchildren, aged among 25 and 1, to devote time alongside one another.

Previously this yr, the couple made a decision to change their everlasting base to Florence, leasing the 15th-century villa and a town-centre apartment from a “discreet” aristocratic spouse and children. “The entire world has develop into such a compact spot and Florence is so commutable,” claims Vardag.

These hills have been the location to see out plagues in type because The Decameron. The frescoed Medici-model villa, surrounded by citrus trees, vines and olives, is “just a hop” from the town centre. “You could get in this article by horse in about half an hour,” says Vardag, who has horses stabled nearby.

Formerly an situations location leasing for €9,000 a day, the villa came totally furnished. “I just can’t consider any credit score for it,” states Vardag. She does not feel to know significantly about the property or the Antinori family members that constructed it. “I imagine they will have been a service provider or in trade, achieving greatness through personalized endeavour, which is an method dear to my coronary heart.”

A lot more just lately, a high-culture American couple restored the villa, inserting their very own faces into a fresco. The Kennedys were being this kind of regular company that locals refer to the villa as “the Kennedys’ place”, she says.

It’s manufactured for entertaining. In the ballroom, a chandelier the measurement of a Shetland pony hangs above a grand piano dating back to the Kennedy days, and a musicians’ gallery.

“I remember standing in the gallery considering, ‘Wow, this is what it must be like to be Eva Perón addressing the multitudes.’” But the area poses a conundrum. It’s “awkward”, states Vardag. “I see it as dead space, and the young children journey their trikes and operate all-around, that’s what we use it for additional than just about anything.”

The ballroom
The ballroom is built for entertaining — there is a chandelier ‘the size of a Shetland pony’ — and past guests (beneath a prior proprietor) have bundled the Kennedys © Stefan Giftthaler for the FT

Vardag, who educated at the prestigious “magic circle” organization Linklaters, left business observe for the a lot more emotionally partaking relatives law, hired away by the solicitor she had instructed even though divorcing husband variety 1.

She began her personal firm in 2005, choosing attorneys with commercial backgrounds and bringing Metropolis sharpness to a field she beforehand regarded as way too large avenue.

Household law, she states, provides you down “to the fundamentals of humanity”. “It’s essentially not esoteric or dry or professional, it’s about like and sexual intercourse and rejection and guilt and stability and home and youngsters: all the elementary issues that any individual cares about.” 

While cultivating a status as high-priced and truly worth it, Vardags appears to be to have an previous-school ethos that verges on out of touch. A 2019 leaked internal electronic mail specific her gown code directive (female workers ended up suggested they could glimpse “discreetly sexy” but hardly ever “tarty”).

With distant doing the job now the norm, is not official place of work use consigned to the closet, I undertaking. Not at Vardags. When she does not treatment what workforce use for inside function at property, it is “a mark of respect to gown ‘properly’ for clients”, she states. “They make the exertion and they are shelling out a lot of cash.”

A eating room is embellished with frescoes of the gods like Apollo the sunlight god and his twin Artemis, in the act of turning the hapless hunter Actaeon into a stag, to be torn aside by his individual hounds for the sin of looking at the goddess bathing in the nude.

It is tempting to see the grisly drama, the temptation and revenge, as fitting subject matter for a divorce lawyer’s decor. But for Vardag, it is the a lot more intimate paintings that chime with her do the job, “because the full Intimate period of time is powerful feelings, and my whole earth is type of steeped in intense feelings. This is my day by day diet program.”

Vardag’s personal hounds — Acapella, Shah-Namah and Sarab, three Salukis she adopted in Dubai — are ready types for the stately property photograph shoot, trailing us upstairs to a collection of rooms with canopied beds, some with tell-tale paw imprints. “They will not lie on the ground, I suppose for the reason that they are very bony,” describes Vardag.

The Blue Salon
The Blue Salon © Stefan Giftthaler for the FT
The Baldacchino suite
The Baldacchino suite

A traditional Tuscan kitchen has a fire substantial ample to spit-roast a regional wild boar. Vardag admits she hasn’t cooked for several years, the relatives currently being seemed right after by a crew of housekeepers, cleaners, cooks, a complete-time nanny, drivers and office staff members.

It is simple to see why her extremely-rich customers may well be relaxed all around Vardag. She’s grow to be as rich as they are, becoming a member of an elite club with employees, horses and many households all around the world.

From her side, the abundant are just like any person else. “You discover the similar ranges of abuse, manage, violence, drunkenness, mental cruelty and the similar fantastic things: persons getting loving, generous, small children-centered and seeking to have tranquil settlements.”

The principal variance is that it can be more difficult to pin down assets, and dividing them can be “like a world-wide corporate demerger”.

The villa is surrounded by citrus trees, vines and olives
The villa is surrounded by citrus trees, vines and olives © Stefan Giftthaler for the FT
Artworks and frescoes abound
Artworks and frescoes abound

Vardag is entire of reforming zeal and suggestions to make the lawful method for divorcing partners quicker, fairer and, where ever achievable, to slice out the attorneys altogether, lobbying for a a lot more systemic household law procedure. Conclusions in family regulation are commonly bespoke, which judges are happy of, but that tends to make the treatment gradual and pricey, she suggests. Greater certainty about possible outcomes could enable partners settle earlier, conserving revenue.

As noble as it sounds, it is not quick to see how the family’s life style in this impressive villa and their other households could be managed if the quantity of divorce proceedings crashed.

It is a life style that is a lengthy way from her childhood in Oxford, where her mom was a senior administrator at New College and Vardag washed dishes in a café to assist out her “completely broke” family members.

Vardag and Bence, both staying divorced, were being wary of likely down the aisle once again. “We believed it was a whole lot of inconvenience that forces you into contact with the authorized process,” she claims. But they altered their minds after turning out to be closer to just about every other’s youngsters. “I do sense there is some thing exclusive about marriage,” she suggests. “We felt we did not want it for us but for our families.”

Finally, the pair signed a pre­nuptial agreement, as Vardag advises anybody with belongings or money to do, and a postnuptial for good evaluate. “Otherwise you hand your lives to a sluggish and expensive lawful program.”

Of class, if all people took her suggestions, it would put her out of company, she jokes. Then again, if required, Vardags could transform its organization product and arrange “loads of pre-nups”, she claims.

With the profit of encounter, Vardag states she can forecast whose marriages will stay the system. “The factors that give you longevity in marriage are basically savoring each individual other’s organization, not just bodily. That reduces over the a long time. You have to have anyone you have entertaining with, are stimulated by. You need to have to believe in terms of 10,000 dinners: if you can think about obtaining evening meal with somebody 10,000 times, this is somebody you need to marry.” 

My favourite issue

Vardag picks a mat from Laos made by a collective of ladies in hill tribes and offered by means of an artisan social organization termed Ock Pop Tok. Vardag places them “everywhere” in her houses: “I use them as bathtub mats and adhere them on sofas to secure them from pet dogs.” She feels strongly about getting from tiny collectives instead than a mass producer. “This is maintaining traditions alive, enabling persons producing crafts to have work opportunities and communities to endure and carry on their way of life.”

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