I, like approximately 7.5 million others, was an avid viewer of the BBC drama Doctor Foster. This followed the story of Dr Foster whose seemingly perfect life gets changed almost in an instance when she discovered her husband had been having an affair with a woman considerably her junior.
We followed Dr Foster as she went through various emotions including feeling suicidal, grief, depression, shock, anger, denial, upset through to survival and ultimately acceptance. It felt real to many watching, including many of my own clients who unfortunately have either gone through the same, or were going through the same deeply traumatic experience. It touched those who were still grieving the loss of their relationship and almost gave a confidence boost to those who wanted to see Dr Foster’s husband suffer, perhaps because their own husband or wife, they felt, had not been accountable for their unfaithfulness and that was particularly evident on twitter throughout the series. Many shared their experiences and sought consolation online from others who had been in a similar situation.
As a family lawyer and mediator I watched knowing that although some of the lengths Dr Foster went to were exaggerated and some of the actions were incorrect, such as the advice from the solicitor who seemingly encouraged Dr Foster to obtain her husband’s financial documents, a lot of what happened is real and happens all too often. We all know couples like this and recognise it can happen to any of us. I am sure that is why the programme was such a success. However, I would like to see the writers of these kind of dramas having more awareness of the impact upon children of a separation or divorce and the need for children to be protected.
If it does happen to you here are my tips as to what you can learn from Dr Foster:-
- It is not uncommon for one party to the relationship to manage the family finances and the other to know very little about the financial position. It is useful once in a while to ensure you take an interest in your own joint finances.
- No solicitor would suggest illegal means to obtain financial disclosure. Resist the urge to snoop to try and find out more information about the other party’s financial position in order to gain an advantage. The Court would not have allowed Dr Foster to rely upon information she illegally obtained and her actions would certainly have landed her in difficulty with the Family Court.
- Many fear that on divorce they will lose their children. Simon said he didn’t just want to see his son on weekends and evenings. How you arrange your children arrangements is down to you individually and what is best for your children to make sure that they benefit from the best of each of you. We never really found out whether Tom continued a relationship with his father or met his half-sibling.
- Getting children to cover and lie is not in their best interests. Children should not be in the middle of your dispute and if you feel that your separation is affecting the children, or you are emotionally burdening them there is help available to help you manage your separation and also plenty of support out there for children.
- Many people report that they experience stages of mourning and grief following the loss of a spouse or partner. Stages of denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are all part of the grief cycle but how you deal with these emotions is what is important. There are professionals such as family consultants, counsellors and mediators who can help you manage those emotions and channel them in the best possible way.
- The rush to the school gates all too often happens with parents losing sight of how traumatic the experience can be for children who are stuck in the middle.
- Every divorce does not automatically end with an equal division of assets. Each case is considered individually.
- Many share Dr Foster’s wish to keep their dignity. One way of doing so is to take control of your separation and engage in a way of resolving matters where you retain control such as mediation or collaborative law.
Although twitter was full of activity, I was surprised that there was not as many tweets about the impact upon Tom. The focus was very much on Dr Foster’s survival and journey and it made uncomfortable viewing for me as a lawyer an mediator to see Tom suffering and what he had to witness. Children want and need support during their parents’ separation whatever age they are and however hard it is for you.
One tweet I did read which gives food for thought was “Strong women don’t use their children as bargaining chips. It is abusive in itself.” When you are facing a divorce or separation it is often very hard to remain strong when you feel as though your whole world is collapsing around you, but there is plenty of help, support and resources out there.
I would be only too pleased to hear from you if you feel you need help accessing support services and do not know where to turn. Clare can recommend professionals who she works closely with to help you, as well as a number of resources which she is happy to share.
Clare Madeline Mediation