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The Split – a specialist family law perspective of episodes one and two

There has been a big legal drama-shaped hole in my life since shows like The Good Wife, The Good Fight and Suits came to an end. Thankfully, the BBC is here to fill that void with its latest offering: The Split. This six-part show is set in the fast-paced world of London’s divorce law circuit and follows the lives of three sisters – divorce lawyers Hannah and Nina and their youngest sibling Rose.

I was intrigued to see how my profession would be portrayed in a glossy primetime BBC drama. Here are my initial thoughts on episodes one and two:

Episode one

  • There are references throughout the show to “child custody”, “access” and “visitation”. This language is not used amongst family lawyers; we instead refer to “child arrangements” which set out how a child is to spend time with each parent.
  • The show’s main protagonist, Hannah, mingled the issues of children, finance and divorce together. Although they can and do overlap, it is good practice to deal with each issue separately, and certainly not to use the children as bargaining chips in relation to the divorce and financial proceedings.
  • Hannah is described as “a lawyer who likes to settle”, as opposed to a litigator who “makes money”. As members of Resolution, my colleagues and I at Rayden Solicitors aim to reach resolutions for our clients in a cost-effective and, wherever possible, non-confrontational manner. This generally involves exploring whether matters can first be resolved amicably and without the need for a court application. Sometimes a litigious approach becomes necessary, but going to court tends not to be the first port of call as it is a stressful and expensive process.
  • It is not uncommon for clients to bring a friend or family member along to meetings with their solicitor for support. This generally does not present a problem and is completely understandable. However, bringing an unsuspecting spouse along to an initial meeting in order to announce your intention to divorce them is not something I would recommend! This would not only create a conflict of interest which could prevent Hannah from acting for either Mr or Mrs McKenzie, but it is also entirely inappropriate.
  • At the roundtable meeting, Hannah and her sister are so preoccupied with fuelling the rift between them that they fail to focus on reaching an outcome that is in the best interests of the child.
  • One particularly concerning habit of Hannah’s is to make decisions on behalf of her clients without instructions. Telling your client “trust me, I know what I’m doing” doesn’t justify this!
  • Issues with child care happen, but it is not appropriate to bring a child to a roundtable meeting to discuss child arrangements. This is particularly so if there are issues concerning the welfare of the child (which appears to be the case here, given that the father’s comedy routine is based on an offensive and hateful depiction of the child’s mother).
  • The scene where Mrs McKenzie rifles through her husband’s files reflects a common scenario in divorce and financial proceedings. However, there can be serious consequences for those who obtain confidential documents belonging to their spouse unlawfully.
  • Heels are slipped on for court, meetings and networking – not for speed walking across the bridges of London.

Episode two

  • Again, at the roundtable meeting regarding the prenuptial agreement, the legal teams act without their respective clients’ instructions.
  • I have never telephoned an opposing solicitor to tell them to “go to hell” upon receiving their client’s financial statement (Form E). Thankfully, I have never been on the receiving end of such a call either (and I would probably make a complaint to both Resolution and the Solicitors Regulation Authority if I were!).
  • Mrs McKenzie is understandably very upset to read the contents of what I presume to be Richard’s divorce petition based on her unreasonable behaviour. My colleague, Shantel, has recently written an excellent blog on divorce petitions based on unreasonable behaviour, which you can read here. We generally advise our clients to keep their examples of unreasonable behaviour as anodyne as possible. It is also worth bearing in mind that the contents of a divorce petition have no bearing on the financial or children proceedings.
  • Mrs McKenzie suspects her husband has not disclosed all of his assets in his Form E (for example, she notes that he fails to mention his yachts or his plane). Parties are under a duty to provide full and frank financial disclosure from the outset of their matter, and material non-disclosure can result in sanctions and a court order being set aside.

It is difficult for me to remove my family law “hat” and resist the urge to roll my eyes when I watch The Split. Then again, perhaps a show depicting family lawyers who adopt a conciliatory, non-confrontational and cost-effective approach to resolving disputes caused by marital breakdown isn’t going to provide the drama that The Split wants to deliver. Having said that, I will continue to watch the show. Tune in with me each week for a review of each episode from a specialist family law perspective.

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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