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The Split – a specialist family law perspective of episode three

We’re at the halfway point of BBC One’s The Split. Were you desperately grabbing for the remote to switch over to the Eurovision semi-finals on BBC Four? Or, like me, did you persevere with this week’s episode of The Split to the bitter end?

Two main issues caught my attention from this week’s episode.

Grandparents rights

This week we saw more of Oscar, the Defoe sisters’ estranged father. Nina and Hannah question Oscar’s motive for making a sudden reappearance in their lives, and it all climaxes with Oscar turning up unannounced at Hannah’s house to spark a ridiculous late night all-out nerf gun battle in the garden (neighbours from hell!).

Hannah says to Oscar that she doesn’t want her children to fall in love with their new grandfather. We don’t know where this storyline is headed yet, but it reminded me of this BBC news story that I had read over the weekend about MPs calling for the government to enshrine in law the right for grandparents to see their grandchildren after a divorce.

Grandparents can often become caught up in relationship breakdown, with many being denied contact with their grandchildren during this time. There is no automatic right for grandparents to see their grandchildren under English law, however the courts do recognise the significance of a grandparent’s role in a child’s life. Therefore, should negotiations fail between family members, it is possible for a grandparent to apply to the court to try and establish a form of contact with their grandchild, but they must first apply for “leave” (i.e. permission) of the court.

Given that Oscar has had no involvement or presence in his children’s or his grandchildren’s lives for a considerable period of time, it would seem sensible for Hannah to adopt a cautious approach to introducing Oscar into her children’s lives. Any contact should be at a pace and frequency that the grandchildren feel comfortable with. For the time being, it remains to be seen whether Hannah becomes hostile to any further midnight Grandpa vs. grandchildren nerf gun battles in the garden in the upcoming episodes.

If you would like to read more about grandparents rights in this country, my colleague, Elly, has written an excellent blog about it, which you can read here.

Parental Alienation

At the very end of the episode, we discovered that Ruth Defoe had hidden presents that Oscar had bought for his children following their separation. It would appear that the Defoe sisters had been brought up to believe that Oscar had wanted no involvement in their lives after he “left” them.

25 April 2018 was Parental Alienation Awareness Day. Parental alienation is a phenomenon which involves one parent trying to turn their child against the other parent, often with a view to persuade the child that they wish to exclude the other parent from their life permanently.

It would certainly seem that Ruth, having hidden the presents and telling her children that their father had “left” them, has limited Oscar’s contact with his children and created the impression that he did not love them. This smacks of parental alienation, and the adverse impact that this has had on the sisters has been made plain from the outset.

Clearly, as the Defoe sisters are adults, a court would have no jurisdiction to make orders in relation to them under the Children Act 1989. Generally speaking, however, if the court makes findings that one parent has been alienating the other, it has a number of options available to it which can include making orders that stringently regulate the relationship between the parents. In the most extreme cases, the court can even change with whom the child lives and limit the time which the child spends with the alienating parent. The court will, however, only do this when it considers it to be in the best interest of the child.

My colleague, Jodie, wrote about parental alienation on Parental Alienation Awareness Day. You can read her blog here.

If you would like to speak to a family law specialist about any of the issues raised in this blog or featured in The Split, please get in touch.

The Split is broadcast on BBC1 at 9pm on Tuesdays.


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