Getting Your Share in Divorce: Raymond Tooth

Lawyer Monthly Interview: Raymond Tooth – Don’t Get Even…Get Tooth: Getting Your Share in Divorce

Divorce is contentious in nature. It causes couples who were once madly in love to bicker and seek revenge, leaving lawyers to help clean up some of the mess left behind.

Yet despite the heated moments and arguments, matrimonial lawyer Raymond Tooth believes that humour can sometimes be the best remedy of all. Known for his ruthless approach of getting eager-eyed ex-wives their fair share of the deal, it may surprise you that one of the UK’s most famous divorce lawyers who has been coined the nickname ‘Jaws’, actually has a playful and humorous side to him.

But, of course, even though Raymond reveals that one of the best ways to settle a case is by cracking an (appropriate) joke to break the ice, he still remains to not ‘get even, but get Tooth’. Known for fighting for Sadie Frost (who divorced Jude Law) and Cheryl Barrymore (who divorced Michael Barrymore), Raymond has built a name for himself that can make rich husbands clench their wallets. In our September issue, we had the delight of picking his brains, getting to know more about his journey into the legal sector and the lessons he has learnt throughout the years.

What are your top three lessons you have learnt throughout your time as a lawyer?

  1. There are always two sides to the story.
  2. Common sense is needed.
  3. Sound judgment is vital.

Those are my top three things I have learnt as a litigation lawyer, particularly a matrimonial lawyer, but I would have to add that I have also learnt a lot about the psychological aspects of law which plays a part in people’s behaviour and thus their marriage and divorce. A lot stems from an unhappy childhood. Control freaks, for example, are not born but made because of an unhappy childhood; if a child feels helpless and unloved, it is a very painful experience, and therefore when that person grows up they are likely to want to control everything, including their future relationships.

The big advantage of getting older is that you learn from experience.  Having said that, another important lesson I have learnt is that in this field where you have to know the law, the law itself is very discretionary in our jurisdiction and even though there are various established principles, cases are fact specific.

How do you win seemingly unwinnable cases?

Virtually no case is unwinnable, some are just more difficult than others. You can win especially as the opposition is bound to make a few mistakes.

Having a difficult case is a bit like playing the black pieces on a chessboard… you hope the white piece makes a mistake.

In many ways, you have to think outside the box and think laterally. A good way to do this is by working backwards. To some extent, you are in the hands of the judge, who is also a human being. Some judges are meaner in financial matters, some more generous; they have their own dynamics so it is best to know your judge prior to a case.

Nonetheless, if you are going to run a difficult case you have to make sure you do everything correctly and you don’t leave any stone unturned. Take nothing for granted – the worst thing is not taking care with a strong case and then suddenly realising it is not as easy as you think it is. One should never take anybody – the opponent or their lawyer or indeed your client – for granted.

 I begin meetings with a simple question: “Tea, coffee or cyanide?”  If my client replies asking for the last named, I know then we have a big problem on our hands or a client with a good sense of humour.

What pressures come from high-profile cases? How do you work around them?

The secret is to deal with it like any other case. Nobody is above the law, however big and powerful they might be; we are all equal before the court.  The main difference with high-profile cases is that you also have to deal with the press and I firmly believe in saying nothing to them.

Where does your nickname ‘Jaws’ come from?         

Well, of course, ‘tooth’ and ‘jaws’ is almost synonymous. I was known as the rottweiler to begin with and I moved onto Jaws. I remember being asked by a famous psychoanalyst at a dinner party ‘If you couldn’t be a human being, what would be your first choice of animal, what would be your second choice and what would be your third choice?’, and my second choice was a shark. The first choice is how you see yourself, second is how you think others see you and the third is how you really are. It is a neat way of identifying a person’s character quickly.

People often avoid going to Court and will aim for settling – why do you fight until the end?      

Everybody should try to settle their case.  You don’t want to make the lawyers rich but from my experience, it is not usually the lawyers that are the reason for the parties ending up in court. In 99% of the cases, it is the clients that cause the issues. You can spend the entire day in a meeting with the FDR (financial dispute resolution) judge or dealing with a private QC or retired judge trying to settle the case sensibly, but some couples will always let revenge get the better of them. It is human nature to get revenge but revenge is like drinking your own poison: it is self-defeating. You hear these cases where people go mad and spend all their assets on legal fees, leaving them very little money and not enough for their future life. Often people are in denial with what the situation is. I will always say that denial is similar to looking out the window at a brick wall from which you will never escape, and so long as you are in denial you will always be behind that brick wall.  However, once you accept the situation and you deal with it, the wall disappears and there is a view beyond.


What are the advantages of taking a more direct approach to divorce?

You are required to try to mediate, which is a good process. Choosing the right mediator, again, is very important. You also have the FDR during the court process, so you have every chance of settling a case. Only about 2% of cases go to trial; if mediating was not an option or we do not have the FDR procedure, one will be waiting for years to get their case heard as there are fewer judges and more people getting divorced.

Most people do settle and as I mentioned above, it is the better option, but if you are acting for a spouse after a long marriage and the other spouse is being mean, you have to remember that this is the most important transaction they are going to do and if you don’t get it right, they will have a long time to repent.


If you ask me, ‘What is the main reason for divorce?’, I would say your childhood.

Most, if not all, of your strengths and weaknesses, can be identified from your childhood.


A national survey revealed that 34% of British adults would be less likely to begin divorce proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic.  What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the pandemic has impacted couples?

I don’t think people are choosing to get divorced because of lockdown; there must have been a problem within the marriage beforehand. On the other hand, there have been situations where people have been ‘locked in’ together, have talked about their problems and had a proper dialogue that they wouldn’t usually have, resulting in them understanding each other much better. If you are able to discuss things, you are able to resolve them, as one of the great problems in life is a lack of communication.

I do think a lot of marriages survive because the couple doesn’t actually see each other very often, although I do think there will be more babies than divorces as a result of lockdown!

Only 20% of under 55s sought help from a legal adviser compared to 66% of over 55s; what issues do you see arising here, when people rely on the internet for advice?

I think the younger you are, the less worried you are about life, and you don’t worry as much about security and pensions. Younger people are more concerned about the here and now, such as going on holiday and their social life, and quite rightly, too! I think the truth is when you are younger, you don’t need much money but being poor when you are older is not fun, so the older generation will want to know their entitlements and protections.

If the pandemic and lockdown have caused couples to realise that divorce is for them, what financial aspects should they consider, especially given that their pockets may be lighter?

There is no doubt, in relation to divorce during the pandemic, that the courts will be much more conservative because most people’s finances have deteriorated. Somebody always gains in someone else’s disaster but most people’s finances and assets – especially if you invest in property or the stock market –, have gone down and if you are a husband (or the main breadwinner), the best thing is to settle now whilst the economy is taking a hit and the court is more conservative about financial awards. They are less likely to push the boat out, whereas, in a very strong market, the court can be more robust and take the view that – assuming the husband is the main earner – the wife’s financial situation is usually static and what she gets she is going to have to live on for the foreseeable future, but on the other hand the husband’s finance is dynamic, he’s a businessman and is able monetarily to recover his finances quickly.

It is often said that “A man wants a woman for her looks without commitment and a woman wants a man’s chequebook for security” and that is why it is sensible to have a pre nuptial agreement.

Proceedings have been taking place via video – do you think this is good enough?

I have done quite a few of these and in my view, I think they work adequately. However, when credibility is at stake here you don’t get a full grasp of the dynamics of the situation on Zoom or Skype.  The judge would usually look at a witness, see how they behave, which is very important, as the judge needs to assess the person in the witness box appropriately. You don’t get this via video.

Another example is committal applications which should never be done by video. In my view it should be done in person as a person’s liberty is at stake and the court has to see that person.

Aside from the logistics, where the links may not work etc., video calls have succeeded. It has got better as time has gone on and we will become used to it like everything else in life; once you are used to it, it is the norm. I would much rather go to court, however, as the atmosphere is different.


Raymond’s top tips on divorced couples trying to protect their assets

If you want to protect your assets, there a number of ways. If before marriage you give away your assets to someone you trust, the court can do nothing about it.

If a couple start their married life early together at a young age, they should expect to share the fruits of their marriage equally.  There may well be children and it must be remembered that a homemaker makes an equal contribution to the breadwinner.

If, however, a person has made a substantial amount of money and then gets married, it is sensible to have a pre nuptial agreement to protect pre acquired assets. If you have a prenup, you have to give full disclosure, giving the other party full knowledge of your financial affairs and there has to be independent legal advice and no undue pressure to sign the agreement. I know one case where a man had hidden his assets so successfully in various different jurisdictions, he’d be mad to have a prenup, as he would have to disclose everything, leaving a road map for his future wife, so he chose to keep quiet!

You have to bear in mind that our law states that the starting point is the parties equally share what has been made during the marriage, but this is only the first stage. Once you have done that exercise, which can be quite complicated, the court then has to look at the needs of each party and if the needs are greater than the sharing, then you have to delve into non-matrimonial assets.

Therefore, a spouse does not come to the court as a supplicant but comes as an equal partner. One of the great problems is that many husbands, especially those coming from a different culture, do not understand that. We are the most generous in the world when it comes to financial matters.  It is fully discretionary, so we can take pre-acquired assets into account, but elsewhere (including in America), it is much more restrictive.

“You can only have a successful meeting and resolution, if everyone is prepared to listen.”

In essence, the prenup has to meet the needs of the other party; if it offers nothing to the other party, it is most unlikely to survive. You have to be careful, you have to discuss finances with your partner and be rational, in order to know where you stand and avoid speaking about financial matters in the future. Prenups are a very sensible option, but they are never binding on the court. The courts always have jurisdiction to decide on what is fair between parties. In fact, the more generous you are in your prenup, the safer you are in a divorce.

It is often said that “A man wants a woman for her looks without commitment and a woman wants a man’s chequebook for security” and that is why it is sensible to have a pre nuptial agreement.

Raymond’s tips for a happy marriage

There are five things I think are important for a successful marriage:

  1. An active sex life (with your spouse!)
  2. A tidy house
  3. A good sense of humour
  4. No arguments about money
  5. Kindness.

On a more general level, a big issue is that couples take each other for granted.

You also need to think of yourself, however. There are only four things that matter in your own life: your physical health, your mental health, your peace of mind and your freedom. If you want to strive for a good relationship with other people, you need to think of those four things and if you have them, you shouldn’t complain!

Another tip is to not rush into marriage. I would never advocate getting married until you are in your late twenties, after you have seen more of life and understand yourself more. I would also always advise a person to meet their partner’s parents to see what their relationship is like. As I mentioned before, one’s childhood shapes one’s future and if your partner has not had a good nurturing upbringing or has had an abusive upbringing – it is certainly not their fault – you both may need to resolve difficult issues for a successful marriage.

My final tip: avoid control freaks. If a person comes up to you and puts his/her arms around you and says, ‘Don’t worry, I will look after you’, it is a strong sign of a control freak. Refer to my point above and keep well away because once you let them look after you they control you!

Was law always your calling?

My father, uncle and grandfather were lawyers at a firm called A&G Tooth in New Square, Lincoln’s Inn – but my aunt was a famous actress and my mother was also an actress and so I thought I wanted to go into acting, even though my parents didn’t think it would be a very good idea.

When I was 18, I was invited to climb Petit Mont Blanc in Switzerland and on the way back the host said that it was normal to share the expense. He handed me a bill for £29 which was far more than I had.  I said I would have to arrange for payment and then wrote a very diplomatic letter saying if I had known that I would have had to politely decline his invitaton but that I would sort it out very shortly.  I sent a copy to my father who said ‘You’re a born lawyer’, and so I became a lawyer from simply climbing a mountain!


What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have been a lawyer now for 54 years and I am still sane.  Whilst I have not gone mad I have certainly driven my secretaries mad, indeed mad enough to stay with me.  I also still seem to be able to enjoy the cut and thrust which I suppose is an achievement!

I did get a certificate from the Law Society as a congratulation for my 50 years and I wrote to them asking if I was the only matrimonial lawyer who had achieved that to which they replied that there were about four or five others, including one with 60 years qualification and one with 70 years! I can only admire somebody who has done 70 years and hope that honourable person is still sane!


What has been your most memorable case?

I have taken on the South African Government during the apartheid, and I have also taken on the mafia in Las Vegas and, yet, I am still here! But my most memorable case took place in the 80s. It is still the longest financial case that went on for over two and a half months in court which was very complicated. The case eventually settled on the 11th week. It was very frustrating, for both me and my client, and I remember quoting to her a famous saying by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius “If you wait by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by.” That is what happened in this case, not literally(!). She then sent me a silver plaque with that saying on, which led that to be my most memorable case



Raymond Tooth



 +44 (0)20 7499 5599



Raymond Tooth advises in complex and high profile, high net worth matrimonial financial disputes often involving persons in the public eye. He founded Sears Tooth in 1982 and his impact on the landscape of family law is indisputable. His long standing and highly respected practice has been built by taking difficult and novel cases to final hearings and winning. His reported cases include leading cases in all areas of family law involving finance and children in marriage and unmarried couples. Raymond believes that whilst every case should be capable of settlement, the best approach is to move matters forward as quickly as possible because delay generally serves only to cause anxiety, frustration and unnecessary legal expense. This is very much the ethos of the firm.


Sears Tooth is a specialist family law practice. In business for over 40 years, we have unrivalled experience across the whole spectrum of family law for winning complex cases at first instance and on appeal, including cases involving jurisdiction, divorce and children.

Our preference is to settle your matter quickly, amicably and fairly. However, if this is not possible, we will not shy away from fighting for you in Court. We realise how important it is for a client to reach a proper settlement and have somebody defending their financial position and not to be financially destroyed. 

Our clients are often high profile and ultra-net worth from the worlds of business and entertainment.  However, the firm is committed to helping people from all walks of life who may not be in a strong financial position in order to give them the assistance they need because we acknowledge their being in that situation can be the most challenging and difficult time in their lives.

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