9 October, 2015
Over the last couple of days the final episode of the BBC One Drama, Doctor Foster came to an intense conclusion with 7.8 million people tuning in to see how Doctor Gemma Foster gave cheating husband Simon his comeuppance, and it has prompted much discussion.
Whilst this makes for good viewing there are a number of issues with the basic plot of the storyline that has caused alarm amongst family law solicitors.
For five episodes, writer of the drama, Mike Bartlett, has presented how families are deeply affected when confronted with the realisation that one partner has or is having an affair.
Whilst the programme might have served as a timely reminder to some to reconsider their life choices and the potentially devastating effect that an affair might have, the programme showed patent disregard for the direct and indirect emotional impact the parents’ actions and reactions had on their son, Tom.
No thought was given to Tom’s bewilderment when left by his mother at the threshold of the other woman’s property with limited explanation that his father was in the property and would take him to school!
Although Tom said that he then knew his father was in a relationship with another woman, his father denied it. The shock of finding out in this way must have been contrived by Gemma as the best way to hurt Simon but surely the more realistic conclusion to draw is that despite the parental alienation, the real hurt will have been most deeply felt by the 12 year old boy caught in in a web of lies and deceit.
Research from the World Health Organisation has found that when a child is lied to about something they know to be true by someone they love and trust it creates self doubt and a lower sense of self worth.
The final scenes of the episode showed a heated argument between the parents, culminating with Simon knocking Gemma unconscious. Throughout this traumatic scene, Tom was upstairs, having heard everything.
It is only guess work as to how this made him feel. Scared. Vulnerable. Alone.
Experts in the field have described that a child who witnesses domestic violence and abuse like this strongly impacts their wellbeing.
Those who are not direct victims, but witness abuse, can have some of the same behavioural and psychological problems as children who are themselves physically abused. These include anxiety, depression and bedwetting.
Children who have experienced some form of domestic violence also tend not to do as well in school. In one study, forty per cent had lower reading abilities than children from non-violent homes.
The finale unsurprisingly triggered a social media frenzy with some viewers wishing Gemma had killed Simon with no thought given to leaving Tom fatherless.
By implication it seems that Gemma had secured an injunction to prevent Simon from contacting her and possibly Tom and although this was essential protection, what about the longer term consequences for Tom?
Children whose fathers live apart from them but nonetheless have an active involvement and a close relationship with them are more likely to have fewer adjustment problems and greater academic success, compared to those with less involved fathers.
Boys in particular suffer from the lack of a male role model and are therefore more likely to develop behavioural problems, for example becoming aggressive and disobedient.
All About Me?
Of course the title of the series is a clear indication of the character on who the story will revolve but should thought have been given, just for a moment, to pause and reflect on the devastation Tom had seen, heard and internalised?
It is essential that separating parents focus on protecting their children from adult issues and not use them as ‘justice’ or point scoring to help mend a broken heart.
The BBC’s Responsibility
It is also comment worthy that at the end of the credits no reference was given to where people in similar circumstances might seek help and advice which is usually commonplace.
Perhaps the omission was simply a nod to the general consensus that the show, eagerly devoured by the viewing public, was simply a fictional account, but as a gentle reminder there are people who are trained to help anyone experiencing any of the difficulties of this family and no one must suffer these real and live issues in silence.
If you would like to discuss this issue in more detail or would like to consider your legal options with our family solicitors in Bournemouth please contact Lindsay Halliwell on 01202 294566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.