Western Mail and South Wales Echo, 20th November 2012

They spend their days dealing with relationships that went sour, so what happens when four divorce lawyers in the same office plan their own weddings, all within 12 months? WM found out…

YOU might think it was enough to put them off going down the aisle for life. Four divorce lawyers at one Welsh law firm all planned their own weddings within the same year, despite working with thousands of couples every day, feeling the sad fall-outs of once happy pairings.

The solicitors, associates and paralegals at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice have handled an approximate of 6,000 divorces between them since the business started in 1996, that’s around 600 this year, while organising every detail of their own happy days.

The Legal 500, where we are ranked as a first tier firm for family work in Cardiff, described us as having “built up a strong brand which attracts attracts clients nationwide, and is instructed in divorces involving substantial assets, by business and sports professionals”, and praised us for our “friendly and commercial team which delivers an excellent level of service.”

Melanie Hamer, partner at the firm based on Windsor Place in Cardiff, set the example: “I’ve been married for more than 25 years, as has Thea, our other senior partner,” she said. “And a lot of our staff have been married for a few years.”

Ciara Driver, 25, solicitor at the practice, from Cardiff, said: “Because of my job, I can’t help but think ‘what if’, and ask myself the questions people might avoid just as they are about to marry.

“But I’m still a romantic.

“All those relationships that we see having broken down were at one time filled with love.”

WM asked the office’s newest lovebirds why they still believe in happy ever after:

Ciara Driver, 25, a solicitor, from Cardiff, married in June

“My job does make me apprehensive and think twice about the decisions I’m making in my relationship.

Before we married, I didn’t have anything jointly with Shane because of what I do – I know of the potential pitfalls.

When people start mixing finances and marriage it’s important to protect yourself.

If you have a lot of assets, or there’s a substantial imbalance between your positions, it’s a must to think about a pre-nuptial agreement.

It could save a lot of stress.

I trust Shane and if we separated, I’m confident we’d both walk away with a fair division of whatever we’ve built in our marriage.

Shane [28] proposed on our four-year anniversary, he took me for a picnic and proposed in the park and our wedding day was the best day.

Because of my job, I make a conscious effort to make my marriage work.

When my parents married (they’ve been married 28 years) there was a stigma attached to divorce that doesn’t exist today. People still want to keep family matters private but they’re not as concerned with what others think, and society is more accepting that sometimes things don’t work out as planned.

I’ve always believed in marriage, I’m religious and I think it’s an important process for your relationship, a foundation for a family.

It’s our jobs to not get emotionally involved, but there are very sad cases.

I’ve had clients who really don’t want to divorce but their spouse does.

Some clients contact you after the initial appointment, or halfway through the proceedings, and they say they have reconciled, which is great. But, unfortunately, some return a few months later to tell you the reconciliation wasn’t successful.

I don’t think there’s a guide to a “happy” marriage, you just have to work at your relationship and put everything into it.

If problems come up, ask yourself if they’re worth jeopardising your relationship.

Often when I argue with Shane, if you asked me the next day what the argument was about, I wouldn’t be able to remember and that probably means it wasn’t worth arguing over in the first place.

Rebecca Frowen, 24, a paralegal, from Newport is marrying next spring

“I’ve been with Alexander [28] for seven years. We got engaged last Christmas Day and he proposed during a board game called ‘Logo’.

My brother filmed the moment, in case I said no so he could send the blunder to You’ve Been Framed.

I have absolutely always believed in marriage, and I’ve always aspired to have a marriage as happy as my parents’.

I think it’s the ultimate commitment two people can make.

Dealing with cases day-to-day makes you take stock, and perhaps have a slightly cynical view on your own relationship.

But, like any job, you need to leave work at work.

I’ve always been a fairly realistic person and don’t expect to be swept off my feet, but I’m still a romantic. We have ‘date night’ whenever we can.

I’ve learned that marriage isn’t something that will always work, and that both parties need to be able to work hard to keep it strong.

Katie Costin, 24, a trainee solicitor, from Abergavenny is marrying in December

“For me, marriage is important as it represents the coming together of two people who support one another in all they do.

I’ve never felt apprehensive about it, because like most things, you never think it’s going to happen to you!

David [32] and I got engaged on holiday in Lanzarote. After a meal cooked on top of a volcano, he asked if I wanted to go and look at the views and proposed to me there and then.

I always have been, and I think I always will be, a romantic.

I look up to people like my grandparents, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

From doing this job, I understand the importance of being realistic and planning for every eventuality.

A pre-marital agreement isn’t necessary in every case, but I would definitely advise somebody to think about it if they have a lot of assets.

It is of course sad when a relationship comes to an end, but, after divorce many people go on to re-marry and it’s satisfying to know you’ve played a role in helping them find the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve learnt it’s important to ensure you spend quality time with your partner.

And compromise and have respect for one another – that’s probably the secret.

Having said that, I’m not married yet!”

Elizabeth Saxby, 29, an Associate, from Cardiff married in June.

“I like the idea of being married, but I like the idea of being in a good solid relationship more

I met Lee [30] six years ago, we got engaged just before my 28th birthday and married on a beach in Hawaii in June.

Marriage is not one-size-fits-all and you have to do what works for you, that’s what keeps life interesting.

My job involves managing expectations and helping my client get their life back to some level of normality. When it comes to the ‘pre-nup’, I’d say definitely get advice if you have a large property portfolio or savings. It’s sensible to safeguard that.

I’ve watched my share of rom-coms and I love them, but the films always stop when the couple get together.

They miss the best bits when they move in together and she stops cooking and he leaves his socks on the floor. That’s the good part!

I’m just really grateful that I have an understanding husband.

Clients complain about their partners and I think ‘I do all of those things!’, others I think, ‘my husband does that!’

No-one’s perfect, but as long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter.

My Grandma, who was married to my Grandpa for over 50 years, says you need to love each other and work together.

Actually she said “Caru eich gilydd a gweithio gydach gilydd” which sounds much better in Welsh.”