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The Split: family law and divorce myths busted!

With The Split back on our screens, we asked the legal eagles at local law firm, Debenhams Ottaway to fact check everything from divorce to parental responsibility.

Been glued to Season 3 of BBC’s divorce drama The Split? Us too! But while the storylines make for really good drama, how do they do on legal technicalities? Annabel Andreou, divorce and family lawyer at Debenhams Ottaway in St Albans, sets the record straight. *Spoiler alert – if you haven’t caught up yet, you might want to save this feature for later!*

The Defoe family looking like they mean business on BBC’s The Split

TRUE OR FALSE? You must provide a reason as to why you want a divorce.

False: In the first episode we meet Lenny (Zander’s sister) who approaches Hannah for advice about divorcing her husband without giving a reason. This storyline comes at a time where the process for getting a divorce has changed significantly. On 6 April 2022, the no-fault divorce legislation came into effect, which means that neither side needs to provide a reason as to why they are divorcing. It is designed to make it easier for couples seeking a divorce to get one, without needing to lay blame at their spouse’s door. Although The Split does refer to the correct divorce procedure at the time of filming, if Lenny’s divorce petition (now called divorce application) was issued before 6 April she would need to provide a reason.

TRUE OR FALSE? A divorce agreement isn’t legally binding.

True: When a couple divorce, they should get a financial order that sets out who gets what after the divorce. Financial orders are the only type of legally binding document in family finance cases. In the opening scene of episode 1 we see Hannah put her wedding rings on a ‘divorce agreement, labelled ‘Proposed Heads of Terms’. This document details what she and Nathan have agreed about their finances and property and children after they divorce, but it does not prevent financial claims from being made against one another in the future, be that future wealth, pensions or their estate on death. We also see Nathan reading through a parenting plan and while these also are not legally binding, they are a useful tool to help separating parents to set out the arrangements for the children.

TRUE OR FALSE? The way a child is conceived determines who their legal parents are.

True: In episode 2 we meet Gus, Bella, and Sian. Bella and Sian are married and Bella is pregnant via artificial insemination, while Gus is the known sperm donor. Hannah correctly explains to the trio that they are entering into an ‘informal agreement’ due to the nature of the conception. This means that Bella and Sian will be the child’s legal parents and Gus cannot claim any legal rights or parental responsibilities for that child. However if the baby had been naturally conceived (as Hannah rightly suspects), Gus would be the legal father. A child can only ever have two legal parents. However it is possible for more than two people to have parental responsibility (which means they can make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing). Although Gus would be the legal father, he would not automatically have parental responsibility.

TRUE OR FALSE? ‘Nesting’ provides stability for children after a divorce or separation

Both: It really depends on the situation. ‘Nesting’ is a term given to a way of living following divorce or separation where children stay in their home, and the parents take it in turns to live with them there. The main purpose is to ensure stability for the children so they can keep to their routines and avoid the disruption of moving between two homes. This is particularly important for young children, but less so for teenage children like the Sterns in The Split. Hannah and Nathan’s situation, which is discussed in episode 3, couldn’t be less appropriate for ‘nesting’, particularly with Nathan’s new girlfriend joining him there, and spilling the news about their pregnancy – it’s all too much, too soon, and a good family lawyer would not recommend this for them.

‘Nesting’ is a relatively new concept in the UK and the jury is still out over whether it is a good idea. While it sounds positive in terms of consistency, there are concerns that ‘nesting’ leaves children in a state of limbo and delays children facing up to the reality of their parents’ separation. Some children may find it reassuring to see both parents in their own home with minimal disruption, while others will find it confusing and uncertain. Your lawyer should advise you depending on your personal circumstances.

Find out more about how Debenhams Ottaway could help you here.

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