Philip A. Wasserman | ‘Succession,’ a Family Law Perspective

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

If the HBO series “Succession” characters of Tom and Shiv were an actual couple, this would be my analysis of their situation as a family law attorney. I’ll assume you’ve been watching the series and know the characters and the story arc. Lots of spoilers. 

An unanswered question from the last episode of “Succession” is, what happens to Tom and Shiv’s marriage? Tom and Shiv appeared headed for divorce in the final season. Tom consulted with all the top divorce attorneys in New York, thereby legally conflicting them from representing Shiv. 

Tom and Shiv have said some of the worst things any spouses can say to each other, and there are only two places to go after that: Make peace and move forward or get divorced. But I don’t think divorce is in their cards. 

Here’s my reasoning: First, Tom has just become the CEO of GoJo, in a corporate takeover of Waystar/Royco, which was founded by Shiv’s father, the late Logan Roy. Divorce now from the late founder’s daughter would be very bad timing and there is no amount of public relations work by Karolina that could prevent that from being a negative for Tom. 

Second, Shiv leaves the company as a multi-billionaire, and she’s having their child. That is a powerful combination because even though Tom is now CEO, he’s not wealthy and will never have Shiv’s wealth. You can get rich, but you can’t get wealthy on a W-2 paycheck. 

The real money in America is made when you own the company, and Shiv and her brothers are owners through the family trust. Staying married to Tom gives Shiv spousal influence and more. Half of the takeover money is stock in Matsson’s company, GoJo. That makes Shiv a major shareholder of the new company and Tom needs her as an ally. Not to mention that Shiv has a prenup, which protects her wealth. 

We get hints of a budding rapprochement between Tom and Shiv in the final episodes. After Logan’s funeral, Shiv tells a sleep-deprived Tom he can stay at their apartment (which she owns) for the night instead of the hotel he’s been sleeping at since their breakup. That scene reminded me of the time one of my clients bought her husband a sandwich at the courthouse, even though they were locked in difficult divorce litigation. When I asked her about that, she replied that he was hungry and forgot his wallet and that she wasn’t cruel. Besides, they were the parents of minor children. 

Before Shiv flew off to the Caribbean to visit her brother Roman, she phoned Tom and apologized for the things she said, and she asked if he was interested in having a real relationship. Tom hedged, but he didn’t say no. Shiv realizes that her power comes indirectly through her relationship with men, which is admittedly sexist and misogynistic. 

Growing up, Logan kept Shiv on the outside of the company he founded. Logan had a complicated relationship with women (as Shiv reminds us at his funeral). 

After he’s named CEO of the new company, Tom invites Shiv to join him in the company car. That was symbolically important because it says Shiv is on the inside. To paraphrase the musical “Hamilton,” Shiv is now in the company car where it can happen. As they drive off, Tom offers his hand to Shiv, and she lightly grasps it. Tom knows that without Shiv’s vote he would not be the new CEO. He owes his wife. 

Cousin Greg’s betrayal of Tom turned out not to be a betrayal after all. It gave Shiv time to contemplate. Knowing Matsson was not going to name her as CEO of the new company, would she be better off with her brother Kendall as CEO or her husband, Tom? Shiv realized she was better off with Tom in that role. She knew if Kendall became CEO she would be exiled with no power or influence. Kendall would likely be no different from her late father with respect to her role in the company. 

Staying married to Tom gives Shiv the influence she would never have with Kendall as CEO. 

And don’t underestimate the connection of their first child together as well. Tom and Shiv have a lot to work out. Like most marriages, it is a complicated mix of the transactional and real affection. Perhaps Shiv even thought that by voting for the takeover and knowing that Tom would become the CEO, it would be another step toward repairing their marriage. 

What if Kendall had won the board’s vote and become the CEO? In that case, I wouldn’t be arguing that Tom and Shiv would stay together and work on repairing their marriage. Instead, I’d be regretting that I never took the New York state bar exam.  

Philip A. Wasserman is a family law attorney in Santa Clarita. This commentary reflects his personal opinions and is not intended to represent the opinions of any business or organization.

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