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Maeve O’Higgins

Partner, Head of Family  London Office

Background & experience

Maeve joined Burlingtons, as a partner, in October 2017 to head up and grow the firm’s Family Law Department. Prior to this she headed up the Family Law departments at four other London law firms, including May, May & Merrimans in Gray’s Inn (now merged with Hunters).

Maeve deals with all aspects of family law, mainly divorce and separation and the financial aspects of divorce and relationship breakdown, acting for mid to high and ultra-high net worth individuals and/or their spouses and partners. She is a very experienced family lawyer, family mediator and collaborative lawyer.

Separation and divorce and the financial aspects of relationship breakdown

Maeve’s clients include divorcing couples, cohabiting couples and same-sex couples from all walks of life, many of whom are high profile individuals. Her experience includes acting for a client in his 90s, who was being divorced by his second wife. The case involved complex issues concerning the true ownership of the client’s former business and other assets, necessitating the intervention of three of his (adult) children in the family remedy proceedings, which culminated in a very successful outcome for the client. Other cases she has been involved in have involved complex valuations of clients’ company and other business interests. She is used to dealing with modern relationship breakdown issues such as Surrogacy and Assisted Reproduction and less conventional family arrangements, including cross dressing clients.

Marital Agreements

Maeve has a lot of experience in dealing with marital agreements: prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements and separation agreements, as well as cohabitation/living together agreements, for couples who do not choose to get married. (“Prenups, Postnups and No-Nups”). Her experience includes negotiating the terms of a prenuptial agreement for an ultra-high net worth individual, worth more than £500 million and advising one of the parties in relation to a French marital property agreement, where the couple had combined assets in excess of €200 million.

International child relocation/ leave to remove

She also has particular expertise in dealing with international child relocation/leave to remove cases, where one parent wants to move abroad with the children after the breakdown of the couple’s relationship, and the other parent does not want the children to move. She has dealt with international child relocations as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, the USA, United Arab Emirates and China. In two separate High Court cases in 2013 and 2014 Maeve successfully acted in contested proceedings for two Chinese mothers, who were applying to relocate their children to the Peoples Republic of China (a non-Hague Convention country). She has also acted successfully for parents opposing their children moving aboard (usually fathers, as it is nearly always mothers who want to move abroad with the children).

Cross jurisdictional issues

Maeve also deals with cross-jurisdictional issues, for example where there is a forum race between different countries to issue divorce proceedings. The country where the divorce is issued is important because the court which deals with the divorce will usually also deal with the financial aspects of the divorce and different countries have very different approaches to dealing with the finances. It is essential to move fast if there is a possibility of a spouse or civil partner issuing proceedings in another country, in order to secure jurisdiction to deal with the divorce and related financial matters. England and Wales is a generous jurisdiction for the economically weaker spouse, compared to many other countries; hence London’s reputation as “the divorce capital of the world”.

Family mediation

Maeve is also an experienced family mediator, having trained with the late John Haynes, National Family Mediation and the Family Mediators’ Association. She received accreditation in All Issues Mediation in December 1999. In addition to practising as a family mediator from her various law firms, Maeve also worked on a sessional basis as a family mediator at the Eye to Eye Family Mediation Service in Camberwell from 1999 until 2009, when the service sadly closed down. She prefers to co-mediate, working with a family mediator from a family/therapeutic background, believing that the co-mediation model, which addresses both the emotional and legal issues arising out of relationship breakdown, works best for clients. Her mediation experience includes dealing with high conflict couples, helping clients negotiate all the issues arising out of relationship breakdown, including financial matters and parenting/children issues, including international relocation, where one parent wants to move abroad with the children following the breakdown of the couple relationship. She has been involved in international relocation mediations including a proposed move from Indonesia to New Zealand and a “domestic” relocation from England to Scotland.

Collaborative law

Maeve is also an experienced collaborative lawyer and was one of the very first group of family law professionals based in England to undergo training in collaborative law in September 2003 with Pauline Tesler, a world-renowned collaborative lawyer and trainer, based in California. Maeve has been offering the interdisciplinary model of collaborative law as a process option for clients who do not wish to use the court process since 2004. She was one of the founder members of City of London Collaborative Lawyers, established in 2008.

Accreditations

Maeve is an accredited member of the Law Society’s Family Mediation (practitioner member) panel. She was featured as one of the top family lawyers in London in the annual Thompson Reuters Super Lawyers UK peer-reviewed lawyer rating service, from its inception in 2013. She is also a long-term member of Resolution – first for family law, an organisation of family law professionals which promotes a constructive approach to the issues arising out of relationship breakdown and emphasises the importance of focusing on the interests of any children of the family.

 
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