Articles

  • October 2016
    The Split


    The BBC has announced that it is going to screen a contemporary new series entitled “The Split” which will be set in London as “the divorce capital of the world”.  The series will deal with “scandalous affairs and big-figure settlements”.  The creative producer and founder of Sister Pictures, Jane Featherstone commented, “The Split will be an emotional and entertaining exploration of love, marriage and divorce.” Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, remarked that the series “will invite BBC1 viewers into an entertaining new world.”

    While I look forward to watching the series, no doubt muttering to myself about the divergence between exciting scenarios depicted in the series and the reality of working life as a family lawyer, I can’t help but feel some misgivings.  The ending of a marriage, and the emotional issues that arise, are far from entertaining for the couple and any children involved.

    Regrettably, any drama series about the law often creates unrealistic expectations in one’s clients of acrimonious courtroom scenes, private investigators uncovering the dirt or highly charged confrontations between clients and lawyers.  The reality is a largely deskbound daily routine, comprising meetings, telephone calls, analysing paperwork,  and drafting letters and documents.  Most family lawyers are members of Resolution, an organisation committed to resolving family disputes constructively by a non-confrontational approach – hardly the stuff of high drama!

    In practice the vast majority of divorces are uncontested and there is no public hearing where dirty linen is aired, and parents can agree the arrangements for their children. Cases involving domestic abuse are a sad exception. Similarly most financial disputes are resolved without a formal court hearing, by a Consent Order.  Only papers are filed at court and there is no need for any hearings.  This is achieved through a variety of means including negotiations between solicitors, mediation, joint meetings between solicitors, either as part of the negotiating process, mediation or the collaborative law approach. 

    Over the 30 years that I have been practising family law, there has been a move away from overt acrimony and aggression in favour of settling the financial issues, arrangements for the children and the divorce itself.  Since the  Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 was enacted, although the divorce rate has increased, more and more couples are aware of the emotional and financial fallout from  hotly contested divorces, children disputes or financial issues.  Counselling and mediation services supplement legal advice where appropriate, and can help the divorcing couple to come to terms with their new reality.

    I hope the series will not encourage the view of solicitors and barristers as “costs running” vultures.  The fact of the matter is that the lawyers involved can only do so much work, in the time available, and have a number of clients to deal with.  There is no  merit in running a case in a confrontational fashion.  Solicitors, particularly those who are members of Resolution, do want to resolve matters with the minimum of acrimony.  Courts are critical where costs are incurred needlessly, and if the court takes the view that either one or other party has been acting unreasonably in the litigation, will possibly make an order that one side or other bear the costs, although this is not frequent.

    Clearly in any marriage breakdown there are emotional issues, but defended divorces are to be discouraged as a dissipation of the family’s assets on unnecessary legal costs.  The less money that is spent on legal fees, the more is available for the family to re-settle itself, on the break up of the marriage.

    So enjoy watching “The Split” but remember that it is a drama series not a documentary, and that the actual working day practice of most solicitors will be very different from that shown in a drama series.  Whatever you do, don’t come to your lawyer, if you are divorcing, expecting your case to represent the online drama that you have watched.

    This article provides only a general summary and is not intended to be comprehensive.  Special legal advice should be taken in any individual situation.

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