June 7, 2022

The Good, the Bad and the Plain Wrong: A round up view by Jayne Martins

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In this third and final instalment on my observations of Series 3 of the hit divorce drama, The Split, I take a look, at what the show got right – and maybe not quite!

Although I enjoyed the series very much and thought it conveyed some interesting insights into family law any non-lawyer viewer of the Split would have been left with a profoundly misleading view of what life in a family law firm is actually like. For a start the team at Noble, Hale & Defoe seem to do very little actual work!

Now of course, we were supposed to be focusing on the main story lines and not the routine, day to day activity. Even so, the extent to which the protagonist, Hannah Stern, seemed to swan from meeting to meeting - only punctuated by scenes where she appears sitting at her desk looking wistfully out of the window or checking her personal mobile phone - was excessive.

Indeed, it’s unclear if her computer was even switched on - most of the time as it was remarkably quiet. In my experience emails blip in constantly throughout the day. The only sound that drowns out the melodic chime of an email drop, is the sound of my work phone ringing, on my work mobile, desk phone or through Teams (as if there are not enough ways to communicate!).

More positively on the professional side, the key feature that stood out for me was Hannah’s values-based stance on divorce. As a strong proponent of a ‘good divorce’ , she urges her clients to separate amicably and constructively. In her personal life, Hannah and her husband also strive to achieve a good divorce when navigating their own separation. It made the approach taken by the formidable rival family lawyer, Melanie, stand out like a sore thumb and I was pleased to see that the show tried to demonstrate that this is NOT what we are trying to achieve as solicitors. Similarly Hannah defended the profession effectively against the views of Kate, the therapist who thinks all lawyers are unscrupulous money grabbers.

Nonetheless Hannah’s actions in dealing with her friend Lenny’s divorce pulled her ethical stance into question. First, she filed a divorce petition on unreasonable behaviour without providing it in draft to the other side first. This is against the family law protocol which says you should always provide a draft petition before it is filed at court. Secondly, she filed a petition using grounds she really knew to be false. She new that her friend was dying, and yet as a solicitor she would have to take instructions and act in her client’s interests, but not to the point of misleading the court.

Arising out of this I was surprised that there was no mention of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods like mediation, especially with Hannah so focused on a ‘good divorce’ for her clients. This was a shame but the scriptwriters did well to weave the ‘good divorce’ theme throughout the series.

So despite these reservations I feel that The Split did bring into focus some key legal issues in the field of family law. There is has been speculation that some of the characters will return for a spin-off. Let’s hope so!

All three series of The Split are available to watch on BBC iplayer. This article was originally published in Edward Fennell’s Legal Diary.

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