Tuesday saw the emotional final episode of series 2 of The Split which involved many of the key characters going their separate ways.
At the cast and crew screening of the final episode which I attended last week, the writer, Abi Morgan, spoke about how family (and family law) is such an important and inspirational topic and I am so pleased that it has been given a platform by the BBC.
In an emotional scene after Liv’s Spanish recital, Nathan and Hannah took their children out for dinner and, together, explained that they needed some time apart. Hannah was emotional and when she was too tearful to speak, Nathan stepped in to provide a positive message about their separation which was reinforced by comments that the children were Hannah’s and Nathan’s best achievement and that they will always be a family.
Supporting children through separation together
We should not underestimate the importance of separating parents talking to their children together. Children will feel less frightened about the impact of the separation if they are given the same message by both parents; that they are loved and will still see lots of both of them. The reality of a family breakup is terrifying for parents and children but there is a lot that parents can do to manage this and support their children and one another through the process.
We regularly recommend that anyone going through a separation has therapeutic support and this support may extend to family therapy or a separate space for the children to express their views and concerns.
We have a selection of books available for parents which give guidance about what to tell children about separation and the importance of shielding them from conflict. There are also a number of programmes for separated parents which encourage communication and provide positive co-parenting tips.
Ways of resolving practical arrangements on separation
When a client first comes to see us, we talk about the many different ways in which the practical arrangements arising out of their separation can be dealt with. These include:
- Discussions at home – where couples have a good relationship, they may wish to discuss the arrangements between them with the support of solicitors in the background. This option is not right for everyone and will depend on the relationship and how confident each person feels about their circumstances.
- Solicitor negotiations – couples can deal with discussions around the financial and children arrangements through correspondence with their solicitors or at a roundtable meeting during which options can be discussed.
- Mediation – a mediator is a neutral third party, who will help the couple discuss the relevant information required to make decisions about the future. The mediator cannot provide advice but can facilitate discussions between the parties with a view to them reaching an outcome together.
- Collaborative law - collaborative law, an alternative to mediation, is another way in which a separating couple can resolve issues without the need for court proceedings. It is based upon a series of round table meetings involving the couple and their respective lawyers.
- Arbitration – arbitration is similar to a court process but it involves the couple paying privately for an arbitrator (like a private judge) to hear their case and give them a binding decision. Arbitration can take place where and when the couple agrees and is therefore much quicker than the court process. Arbitration can also be used for smaller, discrete issues.
- Court proceedings – if it is necessary to issue court proceedings, both the children and financial processes are designed to encourage couples to negotiate with a view to reaching an agreement (once the relevant information has been provided) rather than having one imposed upon them by the court. If they cannot agree, a judge can make a final binding decision at a final hearing.
These were the options and family law issues in general which I discussed with the producers of The Split and throughout the show, we saw negotiations take place between couples, solicitors and at court. I was the legal consultant for Sister Global on both series 1 and 2 of The Split. My role included meeting the writer, Abi Morgan, script editors and the production team to discuss the type of work family lawyers do and the issues our clients face. I read and gave feedback on the scripts, assisted with queries about the set and costume and went to some of the filming. I was incredibly impressed with how much the team cared about separating families’ experiences and wanting to portray that accurately in the series (while also balancing this against the need to create a TV drama that would attract viewers). The role was exciting and very different to my day job.
In the current unprecedented times with the coronavirus crisis fast affecting our everyday lives, health and livelihoods - we are living through incredibly difficult times and it is important that families, friends and communities pull together to support one another and manage the impact of any significant changes to their circumstances.
When relationships do come to an end, the decision for couples to separate is a significant one, but there are professionals and processes available to help manage the process which need not be viewed as a wholly negative one and there are ways to limit conflict and help the children get through it too. Families with issues arising at this difficult time can still explore any of the above options using virtual platforms and communication tools, rather than having to have face to face meetings.
If you would like to speak to a member of our family and divorce team about any of the issues raised in this blog or through storylines featured in The Split, please contact us or call us on +44 (0)20 7814 1200. Alternatively, click here to get started online and find out where you stand.
Connie Atkinson, a Senior Associate in our family and divorce team, has been one of the legal advisers on the script of The Split, series 1 and 2.
About the author
Connie Atkinson is a Senior Associate in the family team and has experience of dealing with all aspects of private family work relating to both finances and children. Connie has expertise in cases involving: financial settlements; partnership, company and/or trust assets; international elements such as relocation and cross-border disputes; international surrogacy; arrangements for children; pre and post nuptial agreements. Connie is a qualified mediator and assists as a mediator for clients in respect of all practical and legal issues surrounding family arrangements and divorce.
Connie has been one of the legal advisers on the script of The Split, a BBC drama series.