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Divorce and soaps: a match made in hell

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Divorce and EastEnders. What a dreadful union. I am not an avid viewer of soaps and my limited knowledge of EastEnders suggests it is regarded as having a fairly depressing outlook on life with sensationalist storylines. I did then fear the worst when I heard that a divorce storyline was central to episodes last week (w/c May 16). After watching Tuesday’s episode when Ian and Jane “fight it out” at the divorce court, I had my head in my hands, not simply because of the rather depressing content of the whole episode but also because of the depiction of the divorce process. It was as if all the efforts of forward thinking family lawyers over the past 15 years had been wasted.

It seemed to play up to many of the stereotypes that have been linked to divorce – and divorce lawyers – over the years that we try so hard to distance ourselves from: the aggressive lawyers out to get everything they can, the grasping estranged spouse, the joy at having outdone your other half, the last minute change of heart and reneging on a deal, underhand dealings on disclosure of earnings etc. The list goes on.

Would it be so difficult for the BBC to take a more constructive approach? They have an audience of millions and could be a powerful force for conveying positive messages about a range of things. Instead, they chose the opposite path.

The way it was presented did nothing for our profession and again peddled this view of divorce as having to be combative with the parties out to fleece their other half.

I guess it did highlight some of the things not to do. It is not a great idea to take advice from friends, however well meaning. Seek out an experienced family solicitor and take advice from them. It also showed the importance of getting a reliable recommendation – Jane says at one point Phil recommended her lawyer “’cos he’s an attack dog!”. Not the best choice for a constructive and swift settlement, which would ultimately save everyone time and money.

In reality, disclosure in advance of any hearing would have meant that Jane didn’t get to the court and hear for the first time that Ian has no money. These things are assessed in advance by solicitors, leading to both parties able to attend the hearing with a clear view on what the real assets are, although there are cases where clients try to hide assets and they usually get found out.

I must also have missed the reference to mediation. In many cases, since April 6 when the new Family Procedure Rules came in, this would be the first step for a couple looking to reach a settlement.

I guess the episode did show – though in perhaps an unrealistically short space of time – the range of emotions that a person can go through when settling a divorce: anger, pain, regret, revenge. I just wish the producers could have shown proceedings in a more constructive – and positive light. Divorce doesn’t have to be a battle.

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor

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