The country has been gripped by a BBC drama, Dr Foster, for the last five weeks with the finale happening this Wednesday. For those who have not been watching (spoilers ahead), the program follows the story of a married mother, Dr Gemma Foster, and her discovery that her husband, Simon, has been having an affair. The story addresses characters that often feature in a relationship breakdown such as the best friend who is torn between two people, the young child who is stuck in the middle, and the mistress who, it turns out, has been waiting for the love of her life to leave his marriage for the last two years.
As family solicitors, such a scenario is not unusual and we often have to help support our clients when they try to balance these relationships. Watching Gemma Foster try to save her marriage, whilst being a full-time doctor and mother, shone a light on the difficulties that people have to go through when a marriage breaks down. The writer perfectly described those initial feelings of revenge, when Gemma packed Simon’s bags on the night of his birthday and told her friend “I want him to know in that moment what he’s lost”. Similarly, the need to reassure children when a relationship is breaking down can cause parents to make promises they may not be able to keep. Gemma told her son “this is your home, and you can live here for as long as you like”. I myself am all too familiar with those promises being made, and the costs involved in trying to keep them.
However, it was the character of Anwar, a family solicitor who appears in the story that particularly caught my attention. As a Resolution solicitor, my focus is on trying to assist people in bringing their marriage to end in the most amicable and cost-effective way possible. I do not encourage secrecy or the misappropriation of information at any stage. I also try to help my clients through all aspects of a divorce, rather than focusing on finances and “what you can get”.
Anwar’s first piece of advice to Gemma was that Simon would “officially take 50% of everything”. Now, I appreciate that there is some artistic licence here. It is, after all, a drama, and not a documentary. However, this statement is misleading. Whilst it is correct that most financial proceedings begin at an assumed 50/50 split, this case has a young child involved and it would be highly likely that the Courts would deviate from that 50/50 assumption in favour of whoever looks after the child. Gemma says herself that she wants the house, her child, and her money.
What concerned me the most was Anwar’s advice on what to do next. It came to light that Gemma had little or no knowledge of the finances in the marriage. This is not unusual, a marriage is usually based on trust and honesty, so why would you not feel comfortable with one party managing all the money? Anwar’s immediate reaction is to judge Gemma for this decision; he instantly creates a tone of distrust and paranoia, which in some situations could turn a case from one that may be reasonably amicable to one that could become bitter and expensive. This makes Gemma panic. To make matters worse, Anwar suggests she does some secret snooping around to find out what is going on and that she should remain the “dutiful wife” in the meantime. This deceit cannot be healthy, and if there are viewers out there going through something similar they may decide that is what they should do as well. I implore you to consider this decision carefully.
Gemma goes on a mission to send people out to spy for her; a young friend is asked to befriend the mistress, and her best friend is sent over to talk to Simon her husband. Gemma herself blackmails her husband’s accountant in order to obtain documents showing what has happened with the money in the family. It should be noted here that the accounts, and mortgage, that Gemma and the accountant discuss are in joint names. There is no reason why she should have blackmailed him to see those documents. Furthermore, even if she did obtain evidence of Simon’s secret activities, she could not have used these against him in legal proceedings because she had obtained them illegally. This was all due to the terrible advice given by Anwar.
Anwar’s attitude caused Gemma to become embroiled in deceit and lies to ascertain her financial position because that is all a divorce seems to be about. It is disappointing that family lawyers are still painted in this light, because the reality is that we are here to help (although admittedly that doesn’t make for an exciting TV show).
If Gemma had seen a Resolution solicitor, perhaps she might have openly discussed the issues with Simon rather than revealing all over the dinner table. This may have saved their son from a great deal of stress and upset that he suffered throughout, something which sadly seems to have been pushed to one side by Anwar.
So, to conclude, if you suspect your partner of adultery or you’re going through some problems in your marriage, try to seek out a solicitor that does not encourage secrecy and mistrust and try to remember that your actions affect those around you, including your children.