BBC’s The Split – where can a notice to show cause help?


26th April 2022

Episode 2 of The Split – Hannah and Nathan Stern have reached a financial agreement within their divorce, and both of them have signed. Hannah later tears up the signed agreement. Can Nathan hold her to this? Where could a notice to show cause help?

Many divorce lawyers are no doubt watching The Split feeling a modicum of frustration that the lives of the family lawyers portrayed do not accurately reflect their own working lives. The glamour and ease in which matters are resolved is sadly lacking in most real-life cases.

However, the series does raise some very relevant and important points. Episode 2 shows us Hannah Stern firstly signing a financial agreement reached with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and later, taking the document from her lawyer’s desk and tearing it up, in the hope that she and Nathan may reconcile.

Whilst it may be the case that Nathan was unaware of Hannah’s signature, if he was aware, he may have been able to issue an application for notice to show cause. This rather peculiar sounding phrase simply means that Nathan would make an application to the Court, showing that Hannah had entered into an agreement and was seeking to back out of it. He would be informing the court that he considers that the agreement was entered into correctly, and should therefore be upheld.

There are some circumstances by which it is possible to pull-out from an agreement, as follows:

  • No opportunity to take legal advice
  • Undue influence or pressure
  • Duress
  • Exploitation of a dominant position to secure an unreasonable advantage
  • Fraud
  • Misrepresentation
  • Non-disclosure
  • Change in circumstances (unforeseen or overlooked)
  • Unfairness

As both Hannah and Nathan are experienced in family law themselves, and both had solicitors assisting them, they arguably should have been aware of the implications of agreeing openly and signing an agreement that they may later regret. On the story presented, Hannah has recourse to none of the above, and so Nathan could make an application.

However, viewers will recall that later in the episode, a four-way meeting is arranged to discuss the agreement, which Nathan then seeks to amend. This appears to be on the basis that Nathan’s new partner is pregnant, and presumably he believes that change of circumstances to be sufficient to revisit the agreement reached. Depending on the agreement itself, it may therefore be open to Hannah to make an application for notice to show cause herself!

Whilst this has not been raised within the series, it can be a useful tool in real cases, where there is disagreement as to whether an agreement has been reached.

If you would like any information on applications for a notice to show cause, please contact one of the Family team.

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