Are you watching ‘The Split’? It’s the latest in a line of glossy legal dramas that we’re all familiar with. From the days of Ally McBeal and North Square, to Silk and now The Split, there seems to be an endless appetite for legal drama. Divorce is one of those areas that lends itself to TV anyway – it’s a subject that, perhaps sadly, has touched many of us, and it offers all sorts of possibilities for dramatic tension that make for great entertainment.
For some reason, probably because it also makes for good TV, lawyers are often portrayed as glamorous, expensive creatures, bumping into new clients in improbable situations, negotiating hard (ideally against a family member or former love interest for added frisson), then heading off for a night on the town, or to contemplate their own relationships. The Split is no different. And while we’re all for a bit of well-acted escapism on a Tuesday night, we thought it would be interesting to compare the on screen version with the real life of our hardworking divorce lawyers here at Thomas Mansfield Family Law…
The Split – on breakfast
Happy families around the breakfast bar, pristine school uniforms, homework completed in calm
The affray of getting ready for work, and organising everything needed to make sure the kids are up, out and to safely delivered to school/nursery.
Perhaps The Split may not have presented the most realistic start to the day, but we can dream…
The Split – on the start of the working day
I’ve noticed that Hannah Stern doesn’t ever seem to turn on her computer. She seems to prefer pen and ink – perhaps conforming to a stereotype of the traditional lawyer, despite a state of the art machine sitting on her desk – much of my correspondence is via email
On a Monday morning, I usually have around 40 emails to sift though – Mondays will see messages from unhappy clients after a weekend with their soon to be ex-spouses. Penning a handwritten letter wouldn’t give the instant response so many clients need during this intensely vulnerable period of their lives.
The Split – on prenuptial agreements
Tense negotiations of a prenuptial agreement between a premier league, French speaking footballer and his glamour model girlfriend. The lawyer on the other side turns out to be the ex-wife of the exceedingly good-looking colleague that Hannah has asked to come on in to the negotiation (and may also have feelings for – there’s a back story there, but no spoilers, I promise!).
Does the negotiation of a prenuptial agreement ever need an entourage of 20 or 30? Although it’s unlikely to happen like this in real life, the way the negotiation was portrayed in the second episode did flag up the inequality in many relationships. It also highlighted the importance of a prenuptial agreement in any relationship where there are significant assets – or where one partner in the relationship earns significantly more than the other. Women, in particular, but also men, can find themselves in a weak position when a relationship comes to an end. A prenuptial agreement allows for a couple to make arrangements while they are looking forward to a life together – not when the relationship has broken down and communication is fraught.
As Hannah Stern offers Kelsey the glamour model before she eventually signs, “The prenup is written by the head for when the heart’s forgotten that it once loved”. Powerful stuff.
The Split – on paperwork
It’s not giving much away to say that one of the themes running through The Split is the relationship between Hannah and her mother, herself a successful family lawyer and head of the family firm, Defoes, which Hannah has recently left. Hannah finds herself reviewing a ‘Form E’ provided by her mother on behalf of a soon to be ex-Husband, Davy MacKenzie. He was to be Hannah’s client, but now Hannah is acting for his wife…
Case work, progressing files, checking on progress of my tasks, those of the client and the other side is a hugely important part of the role of a divorce lawyer. Form E is one of the most important documents in a divorce – it’s a form both sides must complete, disclosing their financial situation in full and setting out grounds for divorce. As demonstrated in The Split, it’s important to look out for discrepancies and nail down the finances of both involved before proceeding further. Not sure I’d tell the solicitor on the other side to ‘go to hell’ though, – even if she was my mother…
The Split on client care
The MacKenzie divorce looks like being a thread that runs through the series – with other, individual cases providing focus for each episode – the access arrangements between a comedian and his wife/agent regarding their son in episode 1; the footballer/glamour model prenup in episode 2. What The Split does show is the sympathy Hannah has for her clients and her determination to fight for them. She’s always there with words of reassurance and encouragement in dark times.
Every lawyer and client is different, but like Hannah in The Split, my role involves a huge amount of advice and support throughout the process. It’s not just a matter of sending off a letter or an email but of being on hand to help – to find out people’s stories, advise on common sense and practical options, being open about time frames and legal costs, and pointing people in the direction of counselling if necessary. Every stage of a divorce can be stressful, even if the separation comes relatively amicably. Where infidelity or abuse is involved, the situation can feel very dark for clients and my role is to help where I can, calming clients down where panicked and advising them where necessary.
The Split – on finances in divorce
The proceedings between the MacKenzies continue. Having received the Form E and considered it, Hannah’s client, Goldie MacKenzie reveals information suggesting that her husband’s Form E is not complete. A forensic accountant is instructed, and the lawyers attend the property with him to make sure a proper inventory is carried out.
Dealing with financial matters is a huge part of divorce – while not every couple has children – or children under 18 for whom arrangements need to be made, every couple has assets which must be divided up. Form E is where everything should be disclosed, so as I’ve already mentioned, pinpointing discrepancies and identifying gaps is important to ensure a fair financial outcome. An inaccurate Form E may also raise questions about the credibility of the person submitting it.
So… The Split or real life? As with any TV drama, licence has been taken, for sure. The series portrays the law in the context of a glamorous world of high value and high profile clients, and real life for most divorce lawyers just isn’t like that. On the other hand, fundamentally, Hannah (so far at least) appears to be a lawyer putting her clients’ interests first, fighting for a fair deal. Her advice in the first episode to Goldie MacKenzie “Find a divorce lawyer who will get you the divorce you deserve”.
In real life, here at Thomas Mansfield Family Law, that’s what we aim to do.