I’ve just binge watched the final series of The Split, a drama which follows the highs and lows in the life of the Defoe sisters.
Although the series is set in a legal practice and the main characters Hannah, a family solicitor and Nathan, a family law barrister, it does not really reflect the harsh reality of life as a family solicitor. So why do I love it so much?
I think this series brings back a certain amount of nostalgia about my former career as a family lawyer. The depth of care for our clients, the pain of going through a separation, the need to prioritise our own emotional well being when we are in positions where we absorb our client’s trauma on a daily basis and the fun, sometimes glamorous social element of our family law community. However, in the main my interest is due to the deep understanding of the impact of love and loss and how it affects us all differently. This is really why I chose to specialise in family law and subsequently to set up my own mediation practice supporting couples who want a better, more holistic experience of separation or divorce. The psychology and human understanding of the grief process is vital in my opinion to be effective and helpful for clients who are going through this trauma.
It also perfectly sums up the pain of divorce and rawness of emotions. We see in this third series two of the main characters going through their own divorce whilst trying to maintain their professional persona. We watch the impact it has on their physical health. Both are seen suffering from heart palpitations and at one point the husband thinks he is having a heart attack. All too often I see the impact on my own client’s health and frequently clients are having investigations for heart issues, headaches, pains and general ill health. Divorce impacts the core and can leave you physically and emotionally unwell.
We also see the impact on their three children all responding in different ways. The eldest seeking relief by drinking her feelings away, questioning her own ability to form lifelong relationships and the youngest son pushing his dad away.
We watch the pain of a new partner being introduced to the family and how that dynamic changes everything the family knew. It is uncomfortable for all. We also see the husband questioning whether he really wants a new relationship as he is torn because he still cares deeply for his wife. The couple realise that they cannot stay together because they are frightened of change. It also highlights what I often say to my clients about when a new partner is introduced. There is no need to like the new partner but both you and the new partner have to find a way of living with each other.
Hannah and Nathan eventually take control and sort it out themselves, recognising that although they love each other very much, their marriage is not repairable and they resolve to decide how their financial aspects and arrangements for the children will be resolved. We see them sitting down at their kitchen table working through their plans. Both capable family lawyers, we see the change in their ability to work through things sensibly and not rely on their lawyers who were driving a wedge between them. Time has moved on and they are more able to understand their emotions and come to the realisation that they are ready to contemplate a different future.
This is true to life of mediation. Sometimes clients are just not ready when they think they should be or when they see family lawyers to have practical, long term discussions, to be kind and see beyond the initial pain. I help clients explore this during the mediation initial meeting. Sometimes, clients need to pause before engaging in the process or may need help from a therapist or couple counsellor.
The acting is sublime. The characters each take you on an emotional rollercoaster and it leaves you really pondering the narrators conclusion:-
Can there ever be the good divorce? A laying down of arms. Sanguine recognition that not all divorce is failure. Simply some marriages are finite. Why do we place so much weight on the idea that things must last? Surely what constitutes a successful relationship is knowing when it is over. Being brave enough to call time. The desire of two people who have spent their lives together, good lives together who are not willing to throw it all away for a few months of pain. Isn’t that what also constitutes a good divorce. One where memories are left to exist untainted, where children are guided through the storm, where two people can say we did it well, we took care of one another even if the marriage is no more. Be brave. Don’t be afraid. Who knows what you might find on the other side?’
The Split shows that you can and I can say from experience my clients in mediation also achieve just that. That is not to say there is no acrimony, accusations, difficult conversations, anger or pain. That wouldn’t be true to real life. However, there is an inner desire, shared by both to move forward respectfully in a process where the aim is to work towards a joint solution. I help to see the bigger picture, to get some perspective, to work through all the options and to continue to work towards a joint resolution and peace. I also explore if it is the right time. Sometimes you need to wait a little, to process your own emotions, to live with the painful feelings and the fear before you can work towards a place of acceptance or at least being able to consider how things may be when you are ready. Mediation easily lends itself to working to a timescale which works for you individually.
At the conclusion, Hannah and Nathan reflect on their marriage and divorce. They are asked what is the secret to a good divorce? Hannah says ‘No one tells you how hard divorce really is. Although we make vows to love and honour, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, those vows are hard to keep yet still we put so much score on the wedding, the happy ending, the double page photo spread, the Instagram post of the perfect honeymoon.
We forget to put as much care and as much love into the way we divorce. It has certainty cost us more. More than any wedding, all the memories, the photos, shared stories that we placed our lives together with. I tell my clients its easy to marry. What is hard is to know how to divorce. After the shouting, after the war, I tell my clients if they can lay down their weapons, their accusations, their resentments, their regrets, wait for the ringing in their ears to be silenced and the dust to settle on what is left of their lives, if they can stop and breathe and listen to what life has to offer next. Sometimes they have been battling so long, they have forgotten that above the parapet there is bird song.’
And these nuggets of insight are why I love this programme so much and why it really does matter how you choose to divorce. There are so many family law professionals here to guide you through and to help you see that you have a choice. You can engage in war but it will not serve you. What will serve you is getting the right support in place to be able to engage in a process which will give you inner peace knowing that you got the divorce right, for you, for your partner and most importantly for your children who are relying on you to show them the way. Never easy but with the right professional help, totally possible. There are so many of us who have dedicated our professional lives to helping clients achieve a good divorce. You can search for mediators at Find your local mediator – Family Mediation Council or find a family law professional at Find a law professional | Resolution
The series ends with the poignant Big Picture by London Grammar. The lyrics are painfully beautiful but the song is uplifting. If you get a moment, take a listen.