The BBC's new drama may be being hailed as slick, sharp and entertaining but it could end up being more notorious for its lack of legal accuracy when it comes to family law.
Starring Nicola Walker, Stephen Mangan and Meera Syal, Abi Morgan's drama "The Split", about a family of high-flying divorce lawyers aired last night. And members of the FBC Manby Bowdler's family team were among the millions of viewers tuning in....
Family solicitor Kate Rowley says: "We were entertained by the new BBC drama the Split, but not in a good way! It’s not just that the law referenced is out-dated, or that there is consistent use of American terminology, using words like ‘access’ and ‘visitation’... we know it's a story being told, but surely the legal basis of those storylines need to be based in fact?"
Here the family team address some of the issues in last night's episode and explain how FBC Manby Bowdler would do it the ‘right’ way.
1. In one scene, the character Goldie (Meera Syal) has found out that her husband is having an affair with a close friend. After a few drinks, she hacks into his computer and personal safe. She finds a set of documents and takes these to her solicitor, Hannah (Nicola Walker) so they can go through them for evidence of her husband’s affair. We would never encourage clients to obtain documents by illicit means.
If a client had behaved like Goldie we would not be able to look at the documents she had provided. We would have to send them straight to her husband’s solicitors unread. If Goldie came to see us we would write to her husband and ask him to provide financial disclosure voluntarily. Suggesting that someone obtain documents in an underhand way will only serve to promote distrust which does nothing to encourage settlement or responsible co-parenting post separation.
2. In the beginning, Hannah attends an appointment which has been arranged by Goldie’s husband. He has brought his wife to the appointment and announces to a devastated Goldie in front of a solicitor that he considers the marriage has broken down and that they need to discuss divorce and settlement options. We comply with clear rules about conflicts of interest which would prevent a joint meeting with a husband and a wife from even starting; let alone getting to this point. If it is safe to do so, we would encourage any client to speak to their husband or wife honestly and privately. It would be deeply unethical for any solicitor to behave in the way that Hannah behaves here.
3. The episode features a negotiation between a comedian (Matthew Baynton) and his ex-wife (Tanya Franks) about his latest stand up routine which features many personal jokes about her and her infidelity. She warned him that he will not see his young son again unless he changes the set. Their solicitors Hannah and Nina engage in a negotiation with this threat hanging over the comedian. Arrangements for children are determined only by their best interests. It is almost always in children’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents and to regularly spend time with them regularly. No responsible family law solicitor would ever use a child as a threat against an adult or suggest that financial interests should affect a child.
4. The programme suggests that solicitors take a very casual attitude to confidential information. At one point Nina is able to poach a client from Hannah having seen his details which were left lying on a desk. We recognise that clients are placing a lot of trust in us by telling us about their marriages, children and finances. We take protecting confidential information very seriously, especially in light of recent global data breaches and new data protection regulations coming into force this year.
5. Finally, the programme gives the impression that solicitors frequently make value judgments about their clients. We recognise that there are all sorts of reasons that marriages break down. In many cases the reality is that there are faults on both sides or the marriage has been in difficulties for some time. Our approach is to give you realistic and non-judgmental advice about your situation. Most family lawyers go into the job because they like working with people and solving problems; our team are no exception.
The question is, will the team be watching next week?
If you have been watching the Split and find yourself in similar situations, please don't hesitate to contact Kate on 01952 211323 or email@example.com.