Doctor Foster is addictive TV viewing. The first series focused on the discovery and effects caused by the betrayal of adultery and the second series on the aftermath of a bitter divorce. So to test your knowledge of family law, as portrayed in the series, which of the following statements are fact or fiction?
Series One – Fact or Fiction? Did Dr Foster have to sleep with her husband’s accountant to obtain financial information regarding her husband’s finances? – Answer – Fiction – There is no need to sleep with your spouse’s accountant (or anyone else!) to obtain financial information (called ‘disclosure’) regarding your ex’s assets. If your ex does not voluntarily provide this information to you, then you can initiate divorce proceedings and in turn, financial relief proceedings (FRP). In the context of FRP the Court will order both parties to provide disclosure. The Court has far-reaching powers over individuals and their assets if a party does not cooperate, which makes disclosure hard to avoid.
Don’t fancy initiating Court proceedings but want to try to find out information about your ex’s finances in advance of taking any action? Well, the bad news is that you cannot open your ex’s post or snoop through their personal papers or PC but fear not, you can carry out a number of other searches. For example, Companies House will detail what companies your ex was and is a director of. In addition, they hold copies of filed accounts, Articles of Association and so forth. If you know the address of a property you believe your ex has an interest in then you can download a copy of the title to that property, to ascertain ownership, from the Land Registry. These are just a couple of examples to avoid the extreme measure of sleeping with your ex’s accountant to get a feel of your ex’s finances!
Series Two – Is Kate correct when she tells Simon that she is moving to France and that he will never see their daughter again? – Answer – Fiction – Kate should consult with Simon about her proposed move to France. If he does not agree, she should apply to Court for permission to relocate. If Kate failed to go to Court (as suggested in the storyline) then Simon could make an immediate application to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) to prevent her leaving the jurisdiction with their daughter. Even if the Court then allowed the move Kate would be expected to put in place measures to ensure that their daughter maintained a meaningful relationship with her father. Further, France is part of the Hague Convention and would not only seek to enforce any Orders made in England and Wales but would also assist in returning any abducted children to the UK.
Series Two – Simon is not entitled to make a claim against any of the matrimonial assets, such as the family home, as they are registered in Kate’s sole name – Answer – Fiction – The contract of marriage is, probably, the most serious financial contract you can ever enter into. Once married you have a potential claim against your spouse’s assets even if they are in their sole name and acquired prior to the marriage. If I were advising Simon, I would tell him to immediately register a matrimonial homes right notice against the title to the family home to protect his interest. If I were advising Kate, I would insist on her entering into a PreNuptial Agreement prior to marrying Simon to determine how the assets would be split in the event of the breakdown of the marriage.
Series One and Two – Both Doctor Foster and Simon use their son, Tom, as a weapon against one another whilst denying that they are doing so – Answer – Fact – Whilst much of the behaviour of the lead characters seems extreme, the incidents depicted, especially when it comes to their son, are sadly not devoid of reality and highlight the self-destruct button some parents push upon separation. Many parents are in total denial that they are behaving this way, instead stating that they are merely representing the child’s wishes and feelings. In too many cases this leads to long-term consequences for the children of the family, who never fully recover from their parents warring. This is why lawyers and Courts work so hard to find alternative solutions for parents, such as attending mediation or parenting programmes, in a genuine attempt to try to get parents to focus on how their behaviour affects their children and to work together to address the needs of their children.
Well, that’s it folks – my analysis of fact and fiction of family law as portrayed in Doctor Foster. “What does it matter?!” I hear you cry, after all, fiction is often so much more entertaining than fact! But beware the fiction as it may give you false hope or lead you to make unwise decisions. You have been warned!
Samantha Jago – Family Law Solicitor (rhw Solicitors llp)
All the episodes of Doctor Foster Season 2 are still available on BBC iPlayer (as of Friday 13th October 2017).